SHAME on me. I’ve been totting up how many of the UK’s 15 national parks I’ve visited. The result? Six.
This didn’t seem too disgraceful until I worked out how many American national parks I’ve visited. That came to a whopping 11. What can I say? There’s something about Death Valley, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon that has proved more alluring than Dartmoor or the Brecon Beacons. But with National Parks Week (www.nationalparks.gov.uk) kicking off tomorrow, I henceforth vow to change my ways.
What do national parks have to do with living a greener lifestyle? Well, they embody the notion that the natural landscape has a right to protection. Whether you’re trying to recycle more or drive less, this sort of behaviour shows a basic wish to preserve the planet. Around the world there are 113,000 national parks and protected areas, so it seems there is a universal desire to declare our prettiest places off limits to developers.
The British national parks movement informally began in the early 19th century as poets such as Byron and Coleridge started filling people’s heads with notions of wild, untamed countryside. Romantic ideals evolved into a right to roam debate that raged for a century, with landowners on one side waving ‘Get orf of my land’ placards and ramblers on the other shouting, “Have cagoule, will wander.” The 1930s saw mass trespasses on Kinder Scout (a moorland plateau in the Peak district, not a chocolate egg factory) but it wasn’t until 1949 that an act of parliament was finally passed to establish national parks. The Peak District came first in 1951 while Scotland didn’t catch up until 2002 with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, followed by Cairngorms in 2003.
Potted history over, it’s worth pointing out that our national parks don’t count as such, according to the International Union of Conservation of Nature. They actually land in the ‘protected landscapes’ category as they are places where people live and work. Short of a modern-day Clearances, there’s not a lot that could have been done about that. But in the Cairngorms in particular (the UK’s largest national park, which covers an area nearly half as big again as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg), there are plenty places you can explore without bumping into another human.
There’s a part of me that’s wondering whether giving an area national park status isn’t a mixed blessing. If you were a rare species, might you not prefer to be living in the undesignated place a couple of miles down the road, where there is far less chance of tourists disturbing your peace? In fact most national parks have ‘honeypots’ within their boundaries that draw the majority of visitors, leaving other areas undisturbed.
Having visited both Scotland’s national parks, I have to say it’s the Cairngorms that lure me back most regularly. As with the deserts and canyons of the western US, it looks entirely different from where I grew up, making it somehow more special. In environmental terms, it has so much going for it – one in four of the UK’s endangered species live there, not to mention the jaw-dropping landscapes and rivers with water so clean they’re used as benchmarks for UK water-quality standards. Did I mention that physicist Peter Higgs developed his theories about elementary particles while walking in the Cairngorms?
I won’t be visiting any UK national parks this week, but I am determined to improve on my lowly score. After all, these precious places are a great reminder that being green isn’t just an eccentric hobby.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West