In the United Kingdom, we are blessed with a great variety of outdoor places to visit (from small-scale village greens, town gardens and city farms – to big-scale National Parks, and hundreds of miles of heritage coastline).
National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and National Trails
National Parks are substantial tracts of land, sometimes remote, with wide open spaces large enough to provide the public with opportunities for outdoor recreation. National Parks are designated because of their landscape quaility, wildlife and their value as a recreational resource.
The National Parks were created as part of the post World War II re-establishment process and aimed to bring long-term protection to areas of beautiful countryside that were highly valued for physical and spiritual refreshment.
The United Kingdom has 15 National Parks:
The Broads (National Park equivalent status)
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
North Yorkshire Moors National Park
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
There’s a helpful overview at the National Parks UK website.
There are also 46 areas of countryside designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have some of the UK’s best countryside for walking, cycling, horseriding and wildlife-watching. But there’s also great caving, canoeing, sailing and fishing to be found too. In fact, if you can do it outdoors, you can probably do it in the outstanding landscapes of our AONBs. From quiet lanes, ancient woodlands, distinctive and attractive villages, flower-filled hay meadows, sweeping downs, wild moors and more, our AONBs include every aspect of the UK’s countryside and almost every kind of bird, plant and animal in the country.” [Landscapes for Life]
The Landscapes for Life website has an interactive map showing all of the UK’s 46 Areas of Outstanding Beauty.
National Trails are designated long-distance paths and bridleways. There are 16 official trails, plus some unofficial long-distance trails (such as The Coast-to-Coast, devised by Alfred Wainwright MBE and The MacMillan Ways). National Trails are long distance routes through some of the very best landscapes the UK has to offer. Primarily for walking, some of the trails can also be ridden on mountain bike or horse. They are special – they have been designated by the Government and are managed to a set of Quality Standards . You will find the trails well waymarked with the distinctive acorn symbol. Each trail is looked after by a dedicated officer often with teams of volunteers.
Here are links to organisations that care for some of our most special places, and those that help us enjoy those places.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Scottish Campaign for National Parks
CPRE – The Countryside Charity
The Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales)
Hostelling International Northern Ireland
Social Farms and Gardens Association
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
Orca – Looking Out for Whales and Dolphins
The British Mountaineering Council
Northern Ireland Department of the Environment