An official body could also be set up to act as a central source of advice and expertise for all national parks and other protected landscapes in Scotland.
The proposals come from the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP) in a briefing setting out the next steps for expanding the country’s network of national parks.
There are currently just two national parks in Scotland – Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs – but the Scottish Government has committed to increasing the number in response to public demand, pledging to establish “at least one” new one by 2026.
APRS and SCNP are spearheading a campaign to have several new areas designated as national parks, which they say will bring many environmental, social and economic benefits to local residents, visitors and the country as a whole.
Designation is the principal tool used across the world to safeguard and manage important landscapes, with more than 3,500 worldwide.
The groups say proposals for new Scottish parks must be informed by “historical background and expert advice”.
John Mayhew, director of APRS and project manager for the Scottish National Parks Strategy Project, said: "As the two charities which led the campaign for more National Parks in Scotland, we're obviously delighted that the Scottish Government is going ahead with at least one new national park.
“National parks can help to tackle the climate emergency and the nature crisis and bring much-needed jobs to remote rural areas.
“We're keen to play our part towards preparing a national strategy as to where new sites should be.
“In particular, we'd like to see the commitment to new national parks fully integrated into the new National Planning Framework currently before the Scottish Parliament."
APRS and SCNP propose that public bodies such as NatureScot, Historic Environment Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, enterprise agencies and local councils should play a key role in developing a national park strategy and have pledged to provide ongoing support and expertise.
The groups have also welcomed the Government’s promise to increase funding to improve visitor facilities, safety measures and access opportunities, but insist a strategic approach is also needed here “to reverse years of under-investment”.
They say measures such as employing more countryside rangers and improving public transport, parking, camping, toilet and recycling facilities would help alleviate visitor management issues experienced in many parts of rural Scotland that have been brought to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Seven sites with a variety of special features have already been earmarked as contenders for national park status in Scotland – Galloway; Ben Nevis and Glen Coe; Wester Ross; Cheviots and Border Hills; Glen Affric; Harris; and the first ever coastal and marine site, centred around Argyll on the west coast.
Proposals have received widespread support from local people and organisations such as the John Muir Trust, Marine Conservation Society, Mountaineering Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Ramblers Scotland, the Scottish Wild Land Group, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Woodland Trust Scotland.