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Quick Guide to the National Parks in the United Kingdom

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Facts and Figures About UK National Parks
The Lake District - Stone Wall Meanders Over a Mountain Pass

Stone wall meanders over a fields of heather, gorse and bracken on Kirkstone Pass in the Lake District National Park.

©Ferne Arfin

National Parks in the UK

The National Parks in the UK protect some of the most spectacular and valued landscapes in England Scotland and Wales. It may surprise some visitors that National Parks in the UK also protect farms, villages and cultural heritage.

Unlike the national parks of North America, the 15 National Parks in the UK are not large, virgin wilderness areas owned by public bodies. They are, in fact, populated places, with much of the land in private ownership, where people who farm the land or settle in the towns and villages take part in preserving Britain's wild and worked landscapes.

So What Exactly is a National Park in the UK?

Early on, it was decided that in many areas, British farming and village life had shaped its characteristic landscapes and should be preserved - even in relatively remote and wildly beautiful landscapes. So, while the national parks in the UK protect some of the most breathtaking wildlife and scenery in the UK and provide access and facilities for their enjoyment, they also protect buildings and places of architectural and historic interest and maintain established farming use.

Within the UK National Parks, visitors can find a mixture of privately owned land and land owned or controlled by the the National Trust,The Forestry Commission, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and central and local government.

There are mountains, moors, woodlands, marshland, pasture, lakes and coasts. Most UK National Parks have numerous nature reserves that shelter rare species - native red squirrels, wild ponies, orchids and ospreys.

Some Facts About The National Parks in The UK

  • At least 331,000 people live in the National Parks of England, Scotland and Wales.
  • There are at nearly 4,000 ancient monuments in the UK National Parks.
  • The UK National Parks contain more than 350 Conservation areas which are protected areas of special architectural interest.
  • England's National Parks cover 7% of its land area.
  • In Wales, the National Parks cover 20% of the land.
  • National Parks cover 7.3 per cent of Scotland.
  • 7,842 square miles are included in UK National Parks.
  • The largest National Park is The Cairngorms in Scotland, covering 1,467 square miles.
  • The oldest National Park, The Peak District, was founded in 1951.
  • The newest National Park is The South Downs, established in April, 2009.

A List of UK National Parks From North to South

  • The Cairngorms National Park 1,467 square miles of wild, dramatic peaks in central Scotland. Ben Macdui, at 1,309 meters, is the highest peak within the UK National Parks - though not the highest in the UK.
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park 720 square miles of west central Scotland, this is Rob Roy and Sir Walter Scott country with the largest freshwater body in the UK.
  • Northumberland National Park 405 square miles of virtually empty land in the North East of England. It has a total population of about 2,200 and includes the Cheviot Hills, 31 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), 3 National Conservation areas and a stretch of Hadrian's Wall, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Lake District National Park 885 square miles of landscape carved out by glaciers about 15,000 years ago. It has England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike; about 50 lakes and tarns, including England's biggest and England's deepest, and connections with leading literary figures, including Wordsworth, Coleridge and de Quincey.
  • The Yorkshire Dales 680 square miles of dramatic hills and woodlands that straddle the Pennines in the North of England. Very popular with walkers.
  • The North York Moors 554 miles of heath and moorland, as well as 26 miles of dramatic North Sea coast in England's North East. This is Wuthering Heights territory. The National Park also protects more than 800 ancient monuments.
  • The Peak District National Park 555 square miles in the heart of England, it has more than 450 protected monuments. One of its principal towns, Bakewell, is home of the famous jam and almond Bakewell Tart (Make your own with this About.com recipe for Bakewell Tart).
  • Snowdonia National Park 840 square miles of North Wales, this famous National Park includes castles, coasts, ancient monuments and rugged, dramatic peaks. Welsh is the mother tongue of 68% of the population.
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Of the 240 square miles of this West Wales park, a remarkable 260 linear miles are coast - and some of the most dramatic coast and beautiful beaches in all of the UK.
  • The Brecon Beacons National Park 519 square miles of South Central Wales. Its massive, open hills are popular for riding and hunts, hang gliding and sheep rearing.
  • The Norfolk Broads 117 square miles of wetlands, marshes and fenland in East Anglia, in the East of England, with, remarkably, only 1.7 miles of coast. The dry land is dotted with windmills that pump out water to keep it that way. Popular with birdwatchers, the reeds of this waterworld are harvested for thatch.
  • Exmoor National Park 267 square miles and thirty four miles of stunning coastline in South West England. The park's varied landscape of woodlands, river valleys and a rolling patchwork of fields is popular with walkers, birdwatchers and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. A beautiful place.
  • Dartmoor National Park 268 square miles of moorland in Devon, South West England, is a wild rolling landscape, famous for bleak, windswept tors and once treacherous, fog bound roads. Nearly half is open moorland, with about 10 per cent covered by forests and woodland. Most of Dartmoor is privately owned land but there is extensive public right of way. A large part of it is managed by the military for training. Range danger areas are, remarkably, open to the public and only closed during live firing. Most of the time, it is available for riding, hiking and grazing livestock.
  • The New Forest. Despite its name, it was actually created by William the Conqueror in 1079 as his "new forest" for deer hunting. Modern New Forest Commoners, occupy land, owned by the Crown, with "commoning" rights to graze their livestock in the forest. New Forest ponies are the most famous inhabitants.
  • The South Downs After a 60 year campaign, England's chalk desert in the sky became a national park in 2009.

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