National Parks were designated in order to protect beautiful areas for the nation.
The romantic poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth writes about the inspirational beauty of the 'untamed' countryside. Wordsworth famously claims the Lake District as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".
James Bryce MP starts a campaign for public access to the countryside by introducing the first freedom to roam bill to parliament in 1884. The bill fails but the campaign, which was to last for more than 100 years, had begun.
There is a growing appreciation of the great outdoors, the benefits of physical exercise, and the feeling of freedom and of spiritual renewal gained from open-air recreation. It is a response to widespread industrialisation, the expansion of towns and cities and the ongoing enclosure of land by landowners for farming or sporting reasons. Conflicts emerge between landowners and public interest groups as the latter demand greater access to the countryside.
A 1931 government inquiry recommends the creation of a 'national park authority' to select areas for designation as national parks. However, no action is taken and public discontent grows, leading to the 1932 mass trespasses on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Five men are imprisoned.
Groups of leisure activity enthusiasts and nature conservationists, including the Rambler's Association, the Youth Hostels' Association (YHA), the Council for the Preservation for Rural England (CPRE) and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) rally together to lobby the government for measures to protect, and allow access to the countryside, for the benefit of the nation. In 1936, they form a voluntary sector Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) which argues the case for national parks and urges the government to act.
The Council for the Protection for Rural England (CPRE) made the film below, which was shown in cinemas during the 1930s.
This pressure culminates in the 1945 White Paper on National Parks, produced as part of the Labour Party's planned post-war reconstruction. The government sets up a committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse to prepare for national park legislation, whilst the SCNP and Ramblers' Association keep up public pressure for national parks.
1949 is a landmark year as the government passes an Act of Parliament to establish national parks to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public. Lewis Silkin, Minister for Town and Country Planning, describes it as "... the most exciting Act of the post-war Parliament."
The first 10 national parks are designated starting with the Peak District in 1951. By the end of the decade the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and Brecon Beacons National Parks have been established.
The SCNP became the Council for National Parks (CNP), now called the Campaign for National Parks, a charity which continues to campaign for the protection and enhancement of National Parks.
A special Act of Parliament gives the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads equivalent national park status.
This 1995 Act updates national park purposes and gives national park authorities the duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities. National park authorities become independent bodies within local government.
The South Downs was established on 31 March 2010, and became fully functioning, including becoming the planning authority for the national park, on 1 April 2011.