15 things you might not know about the UK’s 15 National Parks

Guess how little the National Parks cost the public purse per year? And how many hours volunteers put in...

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This week is National Park Week. It’s also 80 years since a group of outdoor enthusiasts and nature conservationists established the charity Campaign for National Parks, although it would be another 15 years before the first one was created in 1951. 

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To celebrate, Campaign for National Parks and campaigning organisation 38 Degrees are hosting free organised walks and natural art workshops on Saturday 30th July at every national park in England, Scotland and Wales. (For more details and to book your free place, see the website.) 

Of course, the wonderful thing about the UK’s National Parks is that anyone can enjoy them any and every week of the year. Next time you do, impress your friends and family with these facts and figures…


1. 10% of the land area of England and Wales is covered by a National Park. It’s 20% in Wales!

2. The biggest is the Lake District and the smallest is The Broads in Norfolk and Suffolk.

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How Hill dyke, The Broads National Park. Above: Crummock Water (picture by Michael Turner)

3. In 1936, walkers and nature conservationists – including the Rambler’s Association, the Youth Hostels’ Association (YHA) and the Council for the Protection for Rural England (CPRE) – set up the Campaign for National Parks (back then it was called the Standing Committee on National Parks). They wanted Britain’s most beautiful landscapes to be preserved for everyone to enjoy and lobbied the government. The CPRE made the film below, which was shown in cinemas during the 1930s. 

4. The first National Park to be designated was the Peak District in 1951. By the end of the 50s, the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and Brecon Beacons National Parks had been established. The most recent addition was the South Downs in 2010.

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Wether Down and Salt Hill, South Downs National Park (picture by R Reed)

5. Over 50% of the population of England live within one hour’s travel of a National Park

6. National Parks receive over 90 million visitors every year who spend £4bn

7. Public spending on National Parks costs less than £1 per head of the population, per year

8. Volunteers in National Parks put in 43,000 work days per year

9. 23% of the land in National Parks is designed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and over 333,000 hectares is recognised and protected as being of international conservation importance.

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Rievaulx Abbey, North York Moors (picture by Chris J Parke)

10. There are approximately 4500 ancient monuments in National Parks, including Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, Rievaulx Abbey in the North York Moors and Buckland Rings – an Iron Age hill fort in the New Forest. 

11. Over 1/3 of England’s food with a protected name status is produced in the National Parks, including Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese, Lakeland Herdwick lamb and Pembrokeshire Earlies potatoes.

12. The Parks play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change, and are essential carbon stores. Peat soils in National Parks in England hold 119 megatones of carbon – the equivalent to England’s entire CO2 emissions for one year.   

13. The majority of National Parks land is owned by farmers and other private landowners including conservation organisations such as the National Trust.

14. On August 1st,  the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks will be extended – growing by 23% and 3% respectively.      

15. 90% of the public say National Parks are important to them.


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