Caring for the Countryside

Popular interest in the British countryside grew in the 1930s. Environmentalists, naturalists, ramblers and others felt strongly that more should be done to safeguard the countryside from urban development. They also felt that the public should be given greater access to it. But demand for the right of public access was seldom accepted by private owners of land.

A different approach to allowing public use of the countryside was aired in a government report published in 1931. It suggested that extensive areas of outstanding natural beauty should be established as national parks. The idea was shelved, however, until the economic and recreational role of the countryside was considered in several government reports issued during the Second World War.

National parks

In 1949 Parliament acknowledged the need for a constructive approach to issues of access and conservation in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.

The Act created a National Parks Commission which during the 1950s oversaw the establishment of 10 national parks. It also made provision for setting up nature reserves. County councils were given the task of surveying their areas and recording and mapping rights of public access. If necessary, county authorities were also to secure public access to areas of open country within their boundaries.

Extending public access

The 1949 Act was an important starting point, and provided an essential basis for future development. In recent times Parliament has greatly extended public access to much of the countryside, and has transformed the way in which it is cared for.

Did you know?

The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads were created a national park by an Act of Parliament in 1988. The South Downs has recently been designated a national park under the 1949 legislation

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Lords debates the Second Reading of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill