Learning about the Park

Northumberland National Park Authority is a conservation organisation. National Park status is the highest form of landscape protection in the UK. Of the 15 National Parks in England and Wales, Northumberland is the most northerly, most remote from large urban areas, least visited and least populated.

National Parks resulted from the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. When the designation of the first Parks began in 1951, concerns were raised by residents and politicians, who feared strict planning controls and a massive influx of visitors to the areas. As a result, the Parks are concentrated on the country’s major areas of remote upland landscape.

When Northumberland National Park came into being in 1956 (administered by Northumberland County Council until 1997), its boundary was drawn up close to the upland areas, with any significantly-sized settlement remaining outside. Consequently, Elsdon village, with about 50 homes, is the largest settlement in the Park, while larger scenic villages like Bellingham and pleasant towns like Rothbury are excluded.

Prior to designation, there was great debate about which parts of Northumberland’s diverse landscape should be included. The coast was left out but has since been designated a National Landscape (former Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). The majority of Kielder Forest was also excluded but has since become part of the Border Forest Park.

So what was included? The answer is the rich heritage of Hadrian’s Wall, the breathtaking beauty of the remote uplands of the Cheviot Hills and the fine historical landscapes of the border valleys to the Scottish Border.

Boundary Map

Further Information

More about Northumberland National Park

National Park Organisation

Northumberland National Park Authority is a local authority that has its purposes laid out in law.

Northumberland was designated a national park in 1956. Since then, work to achieve national park purposes has been carried out by, at first, Northumberland County Council and, since 1997, by the free-standing Northumberland National Park Authority.

There are 14 other National Park Authorities in England, Wales and Scotland. Each is a public body made up of two groups of people – members and staff. The members are the people who make the policies and take the decisions.

They represent ‘stakeholders’ (everyone who lives, works, visits or cares for the Park), and it is the members’ job to make sure those interests are considered and to balance conflicting pressures. The National Park organisation is managed on a day-to-day basis by a team of staff, with a wide range of expertise to provide and share with National Park communities, headed by the Leadership Team.

Our Vision and Purposes


We have set out how we want to see the Park in 2020 in our Vision:

‘Northumberland National Park Authority will be proactive, innovative and forward-looking, working towards a Park with thriving communities and a sustainable local economy. It will be grounded in its special qualities, including a richness of cultural heritage and biodiversity, a true sense of tranquillity and a distinct character associated with a living, working landscape, in which everyone has an opportunity to understand, enjoy and contribute to those special qualities.’

We use the Vision Statement to help us organise our work and assess our progress.

As the statement emphasises, we believe the future of the Park lies in maintaining and enhancing its special qualities. That includes keeping it as a living, working landscape, so we are working towards:

  • Sustainable land use – so people who live in the Park make a good living from the land, while leaving it in a good state for future generations;
  • A landscape rich in biodiversity – by protecting the whole range of distinctive habitats, and the species they support, across the Park;
  • A rich cultural heritage – valuing traditions while continuing and developing them as part of contemporary culture;
  • A true sense of tranquillity – the peace and quiet which are increasingly rare and precious in the rest of the country;
  • Opportunities for all to understand and enjoy and contribute to the special qualities – for the benefit of visitors and residents, and because well-informed, enthusiastic people will help to support all our other aims;
  • A thriving community and economy – for the benefit of residents and visitors, and to underpin all our other aims.


Northumberland National Park Authority has purposes laid out in law. These relate to conserving and enhancing the special qualities of the area, and promoting opportunities to enjoy it.

The authority sees delivery on these purposes as being inter-linked with the economy. This modern approach does not imply conservation and promoting opportunities to understand and enjoy the Park are any less valid, but aims to show how National Parks might rise to society’s new challenges.

Today, in describing our purpose of promoting opportunities for understanding and enjoyment, we add social inclusion and the interdependence of town and country.

In promoting conservation, we seek to emphasise that, as living landscapes, there is a mutual dependence of environment, community and economy; the essential principles of sustainable development.

We can also see how better to achieve new life and greater security for Park communities if we see their knowledge, culture and traditions are part of a heritage and as the social capital for rural development.

We all need to adopt new ways of working if our goal of sustainable development is to be achieved.

The National Park Management Plan sets out not only what we consider needs to be done, but our own action and that of our partners.

We also need to influence decisions taken elsewhere that affect this Park and its community.

Statutory Purposes

In early 1990, a review of National Park Authorities was chaired by Professor Ron Edwards. The Review Panel produced a report, “Fit for Future”, and the main recommendations were accepted by the government in their response. The legislative changes were made in the 1995 Environment Act.

Section 61 of The Environment Act (1995) updated the two purposes of National Park designation:

  1. Conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park;
  2. Promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of (the) areas by the public.


Section 62 of The Environment Act (1995) relates to the application of National Park purposes.

It places a duty on the authority to ‘seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities’.

Circular 12/96, which implemented the Act, says this is not a purpose and we must do so only in pursuit of the twin purposes; in co-operation with those who themselves have rural development purpose, and without significant expenditure.

Section 62 of the Environment Act (1995) also places a duty on all public bodies and public utilities to have regard to the purposes of designation in carrying out their work.

Circular 12/96 says: “This ensures they take account of Park purposes when coming to decisions or carrying out their activities relating to or affecting land within the Parks. Relevant authorities will be expected to be able to demonstrate that they fulfilled their duty.

“They will wish to consider whether they could usefully make reference to it in their annual reports. It may sometimes be the case that the activities of certain authorities outside a National Park may have an impact within the Park.

“In such cases, it will be important to ensure mutual co-operation across Park boundaries, particularly in planning and highway matters.”

Our Partners

Northumberland National Park Authority works in partnership, both formally and informally, with local organisations and businesses in order to carry out our vision and purposes. Our partners include:

  • Brighter Futures Together
  • British Geological Survey
  • Business Finance Support Finder – GOV.UK
  • College Valley Estate
  • Campaign to Protect Rural England
  • Defra
  • Durham University
  • English Heritage
  • Environment Agency
  • Forestry Commission Friends of Red Kites
  • Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
  • Glendale Gateway Trust
  • Green Tourism Business Scheme
  • Haltwhistle Partnership
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • MoD Defence Estates
  • National Trust
  • Natural England
  • Newcastle University
  • Association of North East Councils
  • Northumberland County Council
  • Northumberland Estates
  • Northumberland Tourism
  • North Northumberland Tourism Association
  • North Tyne and Redesdale Community Partnership
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust
  • Northumbria University
  • Northumbrian Water
  • Northwoods
  • Red Squirrels North of England
  • RSPB Scottish Borders Council
  • Sir James Knott Trust
  • Tweed Forum
  • Youth Hostels Association

Our Economic Value

If money makes the world go round – then Northumberland National Park certainly helps turn the wheels of commerce in the North East.

The Park is worth millions of pounds to the regional economy through a combination of direct investment and tourism, farming and local enterprise.

In 2013, a study called Valuing England’s National Parks found that Northumberland National Park contributed £81m in the economy of the North East.

It added this figure more than doubled to £166m when taking into account the Park’s gateway towns, including the likes of Rothbury and Bellingham.

The study also showed that in 2011, the economic value of tourism in the Park was £66m, with that figure increasing to £151m with the bordering settlements.

The Park’s contribution to the regional economy is set to rise by a further £3.5m per year from 2016, when the Park authority’s new Landscape Discovery Centre, The Sill, begins operations.

In terms of the value for money, the study reveals that six million people live within an hour’s drive of the Park and can share its benefits, and yet it costs the taxpayer just £2.7m a year to run.

Northumberland National Park Authority has also supported community and business enterprises in and around the park.

During the past five years, three of its funds have assisted more than 495 projects with more than £3.5m grant aid and has drawn in more than £8m of match-funding.

On a national scale, England’s national parks together contribute between £4.1bn and £6.3bn to the economy through activities within their boundaries.

More than 90 million people visit the parks each year, spending at least £4bn, about one third of the spend from rural tourism in England.

In England’s parks, there are around 22,500 businesses with a combined turnover of £10.4bn, employing 140,000 people.

Facts about Northumberland National Park

  • Northumberland National Park was officially designated on the 6th April 1956.
  • The Park covers an area of 1,049km, or 405 square miles.
  • Northumberland National Park Authority owns only 2.5sq km of land in the Park; private owners, the Ministry of Defence and Forestry Commission are the main landowners.
  • The Park is the least populated of all the Parks in England and Wales with a population of about 2,000 people. That’s only two people per square kilometre.
  • The highest point in the Park is The Cheviot, at 815m.

Northumberland National Park Authority cares for:

  • 1,100 km of paths for walking, cycling and horse-riding.
  • 229 Listed Buildings.
  • 425 Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
  • 4,000 Historic Environment Records.
  • 31 Sites of Special Scientific Interest covering more than 10,000 hectares.
  • Six Special Areas of Conservation.
  • Three National Nature Reserves.
  • Two National Trails.
  • A Ramsar (international site for the protection of wetlands).

It also looks after visitor information, facilities and services, many kilometres of dry stone wall boundaries, and hundreds of signs, stiles, car parks and picnic sites. For fact files on the other National Parks in the UK visit – https://www.nationalparks.uk/