National Parks in Scotland

Scotland’s two national parks were set up in 2002 and 2003, following many years of campaigning by Ramblers Scotland and others. We believe national parks bring many benefits in terms of protecting our natural environment and promoting outdoor recreation, and we have been disappointed at the lack of progress in national park development in Scotland since 2008. 

Scotland’s natural heritage is widely recognised as a national asset and a magnificent setting for outdoor recreation which brings recognised benefits for our health and well-being. Our landscapes, mountains, ancient woodlands, rugged coastline, lochs and rivers all attract millions of visitors each year and walking tourism is estimated to be worth around £1.26bn to the economy. 

National parks bring significant social and economic benefit, directly through the work generated in park planning and management, but also indirectly through tourism. International visitors are especially alert to the location and opportunities provided by national parks as these areas encompass the best scenery, wildlife and facilities for enjoying the natural environment.  

Our position
We have long called for the government to consider setting up more national parks. We recognise their value in promoting rural economic development while also bringing higher levels of protection to our most treasured landscapes and our natural and cultural heritage, and acting as a focus for outdoor recreation. 

As a first step, we want ministers to lead a strategic review of our existing parks and identify best practice for the future.

We’re particularly interested in investigating options for ‘lighter touch’ models in new areas. For example, these could adopt different functions and governance structures, tailored to fit local circumstances, but still sitting within the framework of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000.

We have supported the Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland in their call for more national parks in Scotland, with the publication of their Unfinished Business report. 

In this blog, our communications & engagement manager, Danny Carden, highlights the differences in national parks legislation across the UK and how Britain’s first National Nature Reserve was established in Scotland in 1951. Our former president, the late Dick Balharry was one of the first managers of this reserve.

Government action
We are calling for a strategic review of our two national parks with a view to establishing more national parks in other areas where there is strong local support. We believe that national park status could be the key to restoring job prospects, promoting the aims of sustainable development and enhancing tourism opportunities. 

We think that the seven potential areas identified in the Unfinished Business report all deserve further investigation and we urge the Scottish Government to consider representations from local communities in these areas. 

The founding father of national parks was a Scot, John Muir, who left Dunbar as a young boy for a life in America. His efforts in the 1880s led to the development of the worldwide national parks movement. His legacy was not acted upon in Scotland until 2000 when the Scottish Parliament passed national parks legislation as an early part of the land reform programme.

The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was established in 2002 with the Cairngorms National Park following in 2003.

Since their foundation, our two national parks have been influential in supporting the health, economy and natural heritage of their areas – and the country as a whole. 

Read our response to the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park’s draft Outdoor Recreation Plan from January 2020 here.

In 2017 we briefed MSPs on a parliamentary debate into new national parks in Scotland. Read it here.

Page last updated May 2020.