A national park is an area set aside for the preservation of the natural environment.
The National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 states that the aim of a national park is to:
- conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of an area
- promote sustainable use of natural resources of the area
- promote understanding and engagement (including engagement in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public
- promote the sustainable economic and social development of the area's communities.
For the creation of a new national park, the Act includes three conditions that an area proposed for a national park must meet:
- that the area is of outstanding national importance because of its natural heritage or the combination of its natural and cultural heritage
- the area has a distinctive and a coherent identity
- that designating the area as a national park would meet the needs of the area and would be the best means of ensuring the national park aims are collectively achieved in relation to the area in a co-ordinated way
Each national park has its own National Park Authority who are responsible for writing a National Park Partnership Plan and for overseeing its implementation and management. These plans set out how all those with a responsibility in the park, and across public, private and voluntary organisations will co-ordinate their work to address the most important issues in relation to conservation, visitor experience and rural development.
Scotland's National Parks play a number of key roles which support strategies and plans, in particular:
- protecting the very best of Scotland's nature and landscapes
- standing at the forefront of action for nature restoration
- allowing for community engagement and sustainable development
- forming a vital part of Scotland's visitor offer and providing opportunities for the enjoyment of the natural landscape as well as outdoor recreation