Green fields highlighted by sunrays through heavy clouds from Curbar Edge

History of our National Park

The history of the Peak District National Park is closely tied to the history of all Britain's national parks.

1880s: First freedom to roam bill fails

James Bryce MP starts a campaign for public access to the countryside. In 1884, he introduced the first freedom to roam bill to parliament. The bill failed, but the campaign had begun.

1900s: Public demands access to the countryside

The new century saw a growing appreciation of the outdoors and the benefits of physical exercise. More and more people started to seek escape from towns and cities. This led to a growing conflict with landowners.

1930s: Mass trespass

In 1931, a government inquiry recommended the creation of an authority to select areas for designation as national parks. However, no action was taken and public discontent grew.

In 1932, there was a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Walkers exercised what they saw as their right to walk unhindered on open moorland. They faced opposition from gamekeepers who were employed by local landowners. Scuffles broke out and five trespassers were imprisoned.

In 1936, a voluntary Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) was formed to argue the case for national parks and to lobby the government. The committee was made up 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)
  • The Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW)

1940s: The national park principle is established

The Landmark Act of Parliament establishes National Parks principle. 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 set up a committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse, to prepare for National Park legislation, whilst the SCNP and Ramblers' Association maintained public pressure for national parks to be created.

At the end of the Second World War, the Labour government set up committees to examine long-term land use and ‘nature preservation’ became part of the post-war reconstruction effort. Thanks to the pre-war campaigns there was an emphasis on making countryside available for recreation for all, not just nature conservation.

In 1945, John Dower – secretary of the Standing Committee on National Parks – produced a report on how national parks could work in England and Wales. The 1945 Dower Report led directly to Sir Arthur Hobhouse's 1947 report which prepared the legislation for the creation of national parks in England and Wales. The report presented a first list of 12 areas which are all designated National Parks today.

Sir Arthur Hobhouse described the essential requirements for a National Park as follows:

“…it should have great natural beauty, a high value for open-air recreation and substantial continuous extent. Further, the distribution of selected areas should as far as practicable be such that at least one of them is quickly accessible from each of the main centres of population in England and Wales. Lastly there is merit in variety and with the wide diversity of landscape which is available in England and Wales, it would be wrong to confine the selection of National Parks to the more rugged areas of mountain and moorland, and to exclude other districts which, though of less outstanding grandeur and wildness, have their own distinctive beauty and a high recreational value.”

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.” In 1949, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed.

1950s: The first national park is created

In 1951, the Peak District was the first area to be designated as a national park. By the end of the decade the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and Brecon Beacons had all been designated as national parks.

1977: Creation of Campaign for National Parks

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.


There are now 15 members of the national parks family all working to ensure that our beautiful areas of mountains, meadows, moorlands, woods and wetlands are protected and can be enjoyed by all.

  • 1951: Peak District | Lake District | Snowdonia | Dartmoor
  • 1952: Pembrokeshire Coast | North York Moors
  • 1954: Yorkshire Dales | Exmoor
  • 1956: Northumberland
  • 1957: Brecon Beacons
  • 1989: The Broads (equivalent status to a national park)
  • 2002: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
  • 2003: Cairngorms
  • 2005: New Forest
  • 2010: South Downs

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