1) New Forest
This is a rare and fragile landscape, enclosing the largest area of open healthland in Britain, and has been protected by National Park status since 2005.
The park offers a tapestry of open heath, deciduous woodland, valley bogs, rivers, alder carr, saltmarshes, mudflats and charming historic villages. Wildlife is abundant and commoners’ livestock roam through the heathland and woodland.
The New Forest National Park has also shown innovation in the face of pressure from budget cuts and a massive surrounding population, by encouraging sustainable practices and supporting local producers.
Judge Miranda Krestovnikoff says: “I’m impressed by the sustainability of a lot of the transport there. People are encouraged to arrive by public transport, there are discounts if you’ve arrived by train or use your bike. There’s also a real celebration of the local food, with a local mark sticker.”
2) The Broads
One of our newest national parks, with a distinct character – wide open skies, tranquility and water, water everywhere. The peat fens and wet woodland attract a wealth of wildlife, particularly rare wading birds.
Britain’s largest protected wetland is a mysterious and marvellous landscape, with a quarter of the country’s rarest wildlife.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “It’s a very different landscape, which takes a different sort of management. It has a huge leisure industry, which they seem to be balancing with the wildlife and the natural landscape. It’s under pressure with climate change and rising sea levels, so they’ve got a big job there to keep things going. But essentially some very good habitat management.”
Judge John Craven says: “The people that I’ve met who are involved with the administration of the Broads are very passionate about it. Although there’s a lot of pressure these days for development, they want to maintain the Broads as we all remember them. And they do a very good job.”
3) Exmoor National Park
With a dramatic coastline, lush woodland, open moorland, deep valleys and attractive fishing village and towns, Exmoor is naturally impressive. The wild, remote national park has improved access for walkers by rebuilding of the Two Moors Way, which runs from coast to coast through Exmoor and Dartmoor, and the park is also working thoughtfully in addressing the issue of second homes.
Judge Mark Rowe says: “Exmoor has got a lot going for it as it’s very active at the moment. It has really hit the nail on the head with the rebuilding of the Two Moors Way by improving accessibility, and the park has been doing some very good work with local planning in a way that gives local people the chance to both live and work in the park.”
Judge Miranda Krestovnikoff says: “Rather than letting any buildings go into disrepair within the National Trust land, they have been converting them into bothies that you can book for just £20 a night for families. And they’ve also got behind the South West Outdoor Festival, which again is trying to target the younger market to get kids into the outdoors more.”
4) Northumberland National Park
Ah the peace! This is one of the quietest places in the country, and blessedly so. That doesn’t mean it is dull however – with sparkling dark skies, Hadrian’s Wall, the Whin Sill and the Cheviot Hills, Northumberland National Park is home to some of the most spectacular sights in the country. One can’t help but admire the dramatic geology. Spot red squirrels, otters and black grouse while wandering woodland, hay meadows and wild moorland.
Judge Mark Rowe says: “You have fantastic mountains, you have the Cheviots, the Simonside Hills… on a clear day, you feel like you can see all of the North of England, and you can certainly see across to the Lake District. It’s just an absolutely smashing landscape.”
With nine mountain ranges, multiple peaks over 915m, 23 miles of coastline, majestic waterfalls and deep green valleys, it is no wonder that Snowdonia was designated a national park in 1951. By focusing on accessibility and attractability, the park is visited by six million people annually, while also playing home to 25,000 people who live and work there.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “The Snowdon Partnership has been working hard to make sure the people, wildlife and thousands of visitors to the most popular mountain, Snowdon – or Yr Wyddfa -can get the best from the experience, both now and in the future. Locals warden and volunteers have also worked hard to restore footpaths on Cader Idris, while the former farmhouse home of the famous Welsh poet and First World War solider Hedd Wyn opened in 2017, providing an insight into the history of Hedd Wyn and the First World War.”