Protecting Scotland's landscapes

Scotland’s landscapes are renowned around the world, with our mountains, lochs, glens and forests, and a mainland coastline stretching for 10,000km.

While the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 didn’t include Scotland in much of its scope, it did introduce one important improvement north of the border: National Nature Reserves (NNRs)

Indeed, Britain’s first NNR was established at Beinn Eighe in Torridon in 1951.

Today, Scotland has 43 NNRs protecting diverse habitats and species - from the cliffs and seabirds of Hermaness in Shetland to the wildflower meadows and saltmarshes at Caerlaverock near Dumfries.

Beinn EigheRamblers members on the majestic ridgeline in Beinn Eighe NNR. Photo by Andy Malby.

Although authorities wanted to protect Scotland’s special landscapes, it sadly took until 1981 for 40 National Scenic Areas to be created.  These are similar to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but without statutory management plans or budgets.

Just a year after the Scottish Parliament formed in 1999, it passed the National Parks (Scotland) Act – soon leading to National Parks in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and the Cairngorms.

This was followed by Scotland’s world-class access legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which secured a right of responsible access to nearly all land and inland water.

In 2014, after much campaigning by Ramblers Scotland and others, a new Scottish Government policy stated that large-scale development was inappropriate within National Parks and National Scenic Areas. Meanwhile, a map of 42 Wild Land Areas was produced.  

Taken together these offer a measure of protection to almost 40% of Scotland’s land mass.

Native woodland at Abernethy NNR in the Cairngorms. Photo by Danny Carden.

Seven decades on

The 1949 Act is a crucial part of Ramblers history across Britain - and is widely understood to be one our first key victories as a campaigning organisation.

We’re pleased to have played our role in securing world class access legislation and national parks in Scotland, but we’re aware that there’s still important work to do. 

CobblerYoung walkers helping maintain paths in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP


We’re campaigning to support our upland landscapes against the threats of industrial development, unsustainable deer densities and the ongoing spread of hill tracks. 

Meanwhile, we face the prospect of Brexit. 80% of Scotland’s environmental laws come from the EU, so we’re working within Scottish Environment LINK in calling for a new Scottish Environment Act and independent watchdog to protect our special places. 

The greatest threat to our landscapes is from climate change, so it is pleasing to see the landscape-scale ambition of the Cairngorms Connect woodland regeneration project, which aims to enhance 600 square kilometres of land in the national park. However, large swathes of the remaining area are less sustainably managed. 

This year, we were pleased to join forces with 60 other organisations to form Scotland’s Landscape Alliance. Together, we’ll raise the importance of managing change in our landscapes, and promote a positive vision for our landscapes that works for people and nature

Keep on Rambling

This year is the 70th anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, legislation that in England and Wales led to the creation of National Parks, National Trails, the definitive map, and National Nature Reserves across Great Britain. 

With growing issues around mental health, wellbeing, loneliness and obesity, our ability to access nature, and open, wild spaces is more important than ever. 

By keeping alive the ambitions of the 1949 act, we can ensure more people become happier and healthier through walking. 

That’s why our growing Ramblers movement is going to #KeepOnRambling

Download our limited-edition poster commemorating the 70th anniversary and hear all the latest news about our campaigns and find out more about what we’ve achieved then and how we’re continuing to campaign today.