National Parks are extensive tracts of country that are protected by law for future generations because of their natural beauty and for the opportunities they offer for open air recreation.
The parks are living and working landscapes, with an increasing focus on supporting the communities and economic activity that underpin the qualities for which each have been designated.
National Parks provide more than 70 million visitors each year (State of the Natural Environment, 2008) with the opportunity to experience and explore some of England's most dramatic and often remote landscapes.
There are nine National Parks in England plus the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, which has equivalent status. These ten areas account for eight per cent of England’s land area.
Our newest National Park, the South Downs was confirmed by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 12 November 2009. For more information see the Secretary of State's confirmed South Downs National Park boundary.
Natural England signed variation Orders amending the boundaries of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks in 2012. A decision by the Secretary of State on whether or not to confirm the Orders is currently awaited. For the latest information see Lakes to Dales Landscape Designation Project.
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England’s National Parks are extensive tracts of countryside designated by Natural England (or its predecessor bodies) under the provisions of The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, and have two statutory purposes:
To conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.
To promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of these special qualities.
Work to take forward the purposes of designation is steered by a National Park authority for each designation and a range of partner organisations (including Natural England). This work is guided by a statutory management plan for the National Park. Policies and decisions that could have an impact upon National Parks have to take these two purposes into consideration and Natural England has recently published a practical guide to some of the ways statutory organisations are actively demonstrating this, England’s statutory landscape designations: a practical guide to your duty of regard (NE243).
In cases where there may be conflict between the two purposes of designation, the first must take precedence (something known as the Sandford Principle). As well as taking forward activities in support of the two designation purposes National Park authorities also have a duty to foster the economic and social wellbeing of communities in pursuit of these purposes.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published their Vision and Circular for National Parks in March 2010.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads was designated through its own Act of Parliament in 1988, but is normally regarded as a member of the family of National Parks. As well as the two statutory purposes of National Parks listed above, the Broads has a third purpose: to protect the interests of navigation. The Broads is not bound by the Sandford Principle, but is subject to the same “duty of regard” to the National Parks only across all three of its purposes as laid out in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988 (as inserted by Section 97 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000).