Peak District is designated Britain

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History on 17th April


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Peak District is designated Britain's first national park

Derbyshire The 17th of April 1951 AD

The question of access to the countryside in Britain is one that touches on the economic, social and political history of the nation, taking in the clearances in Scotland and the enclosures of common land. Over centuries the wealthy had removed historic rights to land use by the less powerful, eventually even wiping out ancient rights of way.

In the years between the two world wars a movement developed to claim the right of access to the land back. Many urban workers sweating through the week in factories and offices wanted to be able to get into the clear air of the hills when they had time on a Saturday or Sunday. The landowners were adamant that such walkers would ruin their grouse moors and their shooting generally, and would despoil what they regarded as their countryside.

In the 1930s the movement demanding access grew in stature, and organised, with groups such as the Youth Hostel Association and The Ramblers (not an association that springs to mind today as radical, perhaps) and the British Workers Sports Federation joining forces to lobby Parliament about the matter. In the same decade the more militant side of the movement arranged dramatic events like the Kinder Scout Mass Protest. This took place on April 25 1932, when about 500 ramblers led by activist Benny Rothman pushed past gamekeepers drafted in to oppose them, forcing their way onto Kinder Scout.

The problem was addressed in part by the creation of National Parks. In 1945 a White Paper on National Parks was issued to prompt discussion, and finally in 1949 the National Parks Act was passed, aiming to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the countryside in those parks, and to promote enjoyment of the parks by the public, the former goal taking precedence over the latter where any conflict of interest should arise.

On April 17 1951 the Peak District National Park was the first designated in Britain – rather behind the United States, where Yellowstone was made a National Park in 1872. The Peak District is largely in Derbyshire, with parts extending into Staffordshire , Cheshire and Yorkshire . The landscape is varied, with moorland and limestone dales predominant. The park authorities claim that it is within 50 miles of 50 per cent of the British population, ringed as it is by major cities such as Sheffield , Manchester , Stoke-on-Trent , and Nottingham .

The park has almost 51,000ha of moorland and 75,000 ha designated as environmentally sensitive, but it is a mistake to think of the place as countryside alone, as it contains many villages and some significant towns, for example the lovely old spa town of Buxton .

After the Peak District became Britain’s first National Park, others rapidly followed: the Lakes , Snowdonia , Dartmoor , the Pembrokeshire coast , North York Moors , Yorkshire Dales , Exmoor , Northumberland , and the Brecon Beacons were all added in the 1950s. Today there are nine such parks in England, two in Scotland, and three in Wales.

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