Protected areas in the UK are part of a worldwide network of more than 100,000 protected areas.There is one organisation called the International Union for Conservation of Nature, known as the IUCN, that helps to look after protected areas globally.
In other words: A protected area is a location which has a clear boundary. It has people and laws that make sure nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it.
In the United Kingdom, there are some areas that have international designations, and some areas, including our national parks, that have national designations.
These are areas which have been designated internationally by organisations such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).
Here are two examples of internationally designated protected areas in the UK, designated by UNESCO:
World Heritage Sites, currently there are 28 World Heritage Sites in the UK. Example: St Kilda World Heritage Site and National Nature Reserve
There is a government agency in each country with the power to designate national protected areas. They are:
There are three types of nationally protected areas in the UK;
National parks are areas of countryside that include villages and towns. They have an authority to help look after them, including planning controls.
AONBs are areas of countryside that include villages and towns. They have the same legal protection for their landscapes as national parks, but don't have their own authorities for planning control and other services like national parks do. Instead they are looked after by partnerships between local communities and local authorities.
These are areas of land which are conserved because of their beautiful scenery and a mixture of richly diverse landscapes including prominent landforms, coastline, sea and freshwater lochs, rivers, woodlands and moorlands. Parts of the two Scottish National Parks are also National Scenic Areas.
This table shows some facts and figures about the three types of nationally protected areas in the UK:
|Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty||The National Park Family||National Scenic Areas|
|Where are they?||35 in England|
4 in Wales
1 in both England and Wales
9 in Northern Ireland
0 in Scotland
|10 in England|
3 in Wales
2 in Scotland
0 in Northern Ireland
|40 in Scotland|
0 in any other country
|How much land?|
|19,596 in England|
844 in Wales:
2861 in Northern Ireland
23,301 in total
|12,126 in England|
4141 in Wales
5665 in Scotland
21,932 in total
|13,783 in total|
|The First||The Gower Peninsula - 1956||The Peak District - 1951||Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon - 1981|
|The Largest (sq kilometers)||The Cotswolds - 2038||The Cairngorms - 3800||Wester Ross - 1452|
2009 was the 60th Anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which made the designation of protected areas in the UK possible.
The Act set out how land could be designated as national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It also set out how National Trails could be created, to give people access across land on foot, bicycle or horseback.
Read about how people's protests and campaigns helped to make the national parks and Access to the Countryside Act:
The shaping of National Parks