The aims and purposes of National Parks

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The aims and purposes of national parks are laid out by law. The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, was a law made by parliament that set out what our national parks would be like.

There are slightly different aims and purposes for the national parks in Scotland and for the Broads National Park, compared to other national parks in England and Wales. When the aims and purposes conflict with each other, then the Sandford Principle should be used to give more weight to conservation of the environment.

England and Wales

The Environment Act 1995 revised the original legislation and set out two statutory purposes for national parks in England and Wales:

  1. Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
  2. Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public

When national parks carry out these purposes they also have the duty to:

  • Seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the national parks

The Broads

The Broads was given equivalent status to that of a national park by the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988.

The Broads Authority has an additional purpose of “protecting the interests of navigation over and above the two given to the English National Park Authorities".

None of its three purposes takes precedence over the others or carries any special weight.
It is also a navigation authority and harbour authority and has further functions associated with the maintenance of the navigation area.


Between 1951 and 2000 national parks only existed in England and Wales. However the National Parks (Scotland) Act led to the designation of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and Cairngorms National Park. The Scottish national parks have four aims:

  1. To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
  2. To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.
  3. To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public.
  4. To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.

Northern Ireland

Currently there are no National Parks in Northern Ireland, but large areas of beautiful countryside are protected as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Find out more about Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty