What is a National Park?

Henri Pittier National Park Venezuela

High Atlas National Park Morocco

Mount Kinabalu National Park Borneo Malaysia

Cairngorm National Park Scotland

Torres del Paine National Park Chile

Mount Cook National Park New Zealand

Lake Hovsgol National Park Mongolia

Lake District National Park England

Teide National Park Tenerife Spain

Snowdonia National Park Wales

This may appear as a simple question but as their designation lies in the hands of the individual nation they can vary significantly between countries. A National Park is a park used for conservation purposes. They are often a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. A common theme runs through all National Parks and that is for the conservation of nature and as a symbol of national pride.

National Parks exist in many countries around the world and in 2006 there were 6,555 National Parks worldwide in almost 100 countries. The first established National Park is Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It was designated in 1872 whilst the largest in Northeast Greenland National Park designated in 1974. The newest are Band-e Amir in Afghanistan designated in 2009 & the South Downs National Park, England designated in 2010.

International Union for Conservation of Nature

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international organisation concerned with finding solutions to pressing environment and development challenges. Its World Commission on Protected Areas has defined a “National Park” as its Category II type of Protected Areas.

The IUCN Protected Areas include national parks, wilderness areas, community conserved areas & nature reserves and also contribute to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level.

They are a mainstay of biodiversity conservation and act at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and the ecosystem services provided to us, e.g. food, clean water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters.

Defining Protected Areas

The IUCN protected Areas categories are categories used to classify Protected Areas

  • Category Ia   Strict Nature Reserve
  • Category Ib   Wilderness Area
  • Category 2    National Park
  • Category 3    Natural Monument or Feature
  • Category 4    Habitat/Species Management Area
  • Category 5    Protected Landscape/Seascape
  • Category 6    Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources

Interestingly National Parks in the UK and many other countries do not fulfil these criteria as National Parks! IN England and Wales national Parks are designated as Protected Landscape

In 1969 the IUCN declared a National Park under its Protected Area classification as a relatively large area the following defining characteristics:

  • One or several ecosystems not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educational, and recreational interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty
  • Highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate exploitation or occupation as soon as possible in the whole area and to effectively enforce the respect of ecological, geomorphological, or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment
  • Visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educational, cultural, and recreational purposes

In 1971 these criteria were further expanded upon leading to more clear and defined benchmarks to evaluate a national park. These include:

  • Minimum size of 1,000 hectares within zones in which protection of nature takes precedence
  • Statutory legal protection
  • Budget and staff sufficient to provide sufficient effective protection
  • Prohibition of exploitation of natural resources (including the development of dams) qualified by such activities as sport, fishing, the need for management, facilities, etc.

 Popular National Parks around the world

  1. Kruger National Park, South Africa
  2. Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, Peru
  3. Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
  4. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
  5. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
  6. Tikal National Park, Guatemala
  7. Yellow Dragon Scenic Area, China
  8. Iguazu National Park, Argentina
  9. Kakadu National Park, Australia
  10. Torres del Paine National Park

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