Key Figures in the History of the UK’s National Parks

National Parks are a human invention. Nature does not put concrete boundaries on areas of natural beauty – but people do. Sometimes, they are needed to protect the most outstanding and vitally important wild areas. And it is the job of people like these unsung heroes to define the boundaries, ensure they work properly and protect the environment for future generations to enjoy.

There are great many people who work tireless every single day for National Park Authorities, in government and at a grass roots level – far too many to name here. However, we’ve assembled just a few of the individuals who are worth of mention when talking about people who have had a huge impact on the history of the National Parks so many of us take for granted today.

Benny Rothman and the Kinder Scout Trespass

Way back in the early 1930s, much of the countryside that we call National Parks today were still completely private land. Many of these landowners forbade ramblers, hikers and other walkers from entering their land. For Manchester Communist Benny Rothman, the people deserved to be able to enjoy the countryside just as much the landed gentry. Inspired by egalitarian literature such as The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell, he organised a mass trespass on England’s highest peak, Kinder Scout in the Peak District, in 1932.

Some 800 walkers ascended Kinder Scout and scuffled with gatekeepers and police on the way up and down. However, the act gained much public sympathy – especially for those who were jailed. Today it is remembered as one of the most successful acts of civil disobedience in English history.

Sir Arthur Hobhouse and the National Parks and Countryside Act 1949

Sir Arthur Hobhouse was a long-serving local government politician, when he was appointed head of the National Parks committee in 1945. The resulting Hobhouse Report was extremely influential on the 1949 National Parks and Countryside Act, where 10 of the 12 recommended parks were established in law. Sir Arthur was a consummate politician of the Liberal party and a champion of the rights of the common man to roam public land. On top of that he was also chancellor of Bristol University and president of the Open Spaces society. One last fact about Sir Arthur: he had a homosexual fling with the famous economist John Maynard Keynes during his youth. Who said history was boring?

John Edmondson, 2nd Baron of Sandford, and the Sandford Principle

“National Park Authorities can do much to reconcile public enjoyment with the preservation of natural beauty by good planning and management…. But even so, there will be situations where the two purposes are irreconcilable… Where this happens, priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty.”

This statement by John Edmondson, 2nd Baron of Sandford, written in 1974, is today the founding basis of all National Park Authority decisions. It is known as the Sandford Principle, setting out the two priorities for National Parks as:

  1. Conservation of the natural environment
  2. Access for the public.

45 years later, and we still use Sandford’s simple but intelligent maxim on a day-to-day basis when running National Parks.