Women walking by Elterwater in the 1940s

History of the National Park

What are National Parks?

National Parks are beautiful, spectacular and often dramatic expanses of relatively wild country. Each National Park has its own managing authority to conserve and enhance its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and to help people understand and enjoy its special qualities.

National Parks are protected under legislation and the planning system to ensure conservation and enhancement of their special qualities not just for the present, but also for future generations of residents and visitors.

Who owns National Parks?

Our model for running a national park is not based on public ownership and people are often surprised to learn the National Park Authority owns less than four per cent of land in the Lake District.  The rest is owned by organisations such as the National Trust, United Utilities, Forestry Commission and other private landowners.

For more information see Land ownership in the Lake District page.

How many National Parks are there in the UK?

The Lake District National Park is one of a family of 15 National Parks. The others are: Brecon Beacons, the Cairngorms, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Loch Lomond and Trossachs, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs, the Yorkshire Dales, the Broads and the New Forest.

Read more about them on the National Parks website (opens new window).

How were the National Parks established?

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Until the 19th century relatively wild, remote areas were seen as uncivilised and dangerous. However the Romantic poets found inspiration in the beauty of "untamed" countryside with Wordsworth describing the Lake District as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and an interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".

In the early 20th century a growing appreciation of the outdoors, the feeling of freedom and spiritual renewal found there and the benefits of physical exercise led to demands for more access to the countryside. The conflict between landowners and public interest groups grew with the expansion of towns and cities and the enclosure of more land by landowners.

In the 1930s leisure enthusiasts and nature conservationists such as the Ramblers' Association, the Youth Hostels Association and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England pressed the government for access for and protection of the countryside. After World War Two the movement towards creating National Parks gained momentum.

Historical timeline

  • 1936 Standing Committee on National Parks to press for legislation
  • 1945 Dower Report on the concept of National Parks
  • 1946 Hobhouse Report on the administrative systems of National Park. Its recommended boundary for the Lake District National Park is the one followed today.
  • 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act.
  • 1951 Lake District National Park designated on 9 May and founded on 13 August
  • 1974 Sandford Review establishing the Sandford Principle
  • 1992 Edwards Review which produced the 'Fit for Future' report, the recommendations of which were taken into account in:
  • 1995 Environment Act making fundamental changes to the system of care and control of National. Parks. It defines the purposes and duty of the National Park Authorities.
  • 2016 Lake District boundary extended.
  • 2017 Lake District becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are also lots of facts and dates in the following account by Jeremy Rowan Robinson: Managing the Lake District National Park: the first 60 years (PDF)

Purposes and duties

As set out in the Environment Act 1995, the Lake District National Park Authority's statutory purposes are:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Lake District National Park; and
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public.

It also has a duty in pursuing those purposes:

  • To seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities within the National Park by working closely with the agencies and local authorities responsible for these matters, but without incurring significant expenditure.

Sandford Principle

Peacock butterfly copyright Julia Knott

Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995 makes clear that if National Park purposes are in conflict then conservation must have priority. This is known as the ‘Sandford Principle’ and stems from the Sandford Committee’s recommendation, in 1974, that enjoyment of the National Parks ‘shall be in a manner and by such means as will leave their natural beauty unimpaired for the enjoyment of this and future generations’.

What's the difference between a National Park Authority and the National Trust?

The National Trust (opens in new window) is an independent charity who own and look after stately homes, land and coastline which sometimes fall within a National Park boundary. A National Park Authority is a local government organisation set up to look after the whole of the National Park.

Often the National Trust and National Park Authorities work in partnership on conservation projects - Fix the Fells (opens in new window) is just one example.

Where are the other National Parks?

For more details about our 'siblings', take a look at National Parks website (opens in new window).