National Parks in Scotland

The national parks of Scotland are protected areas of great natural beauty where certain types of development are limited to preserve the environment. Currently, Scotland has two national parks: the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, established in 2002, and the Cairngorms National Park, created in 2003.

Unlike national parks in other European countries, in Scotland they are not uninhabited state-owned lands. Most of the land is privately owned, including conservation entities like the National Trust for Scotland, and remains inhabited and worked by people. Although the landscapes may appear "wild," they have been shaped by human activity for millennia.

Like their counterparts in England and Wales, Scottish national parks are essentially "managed landscapes" and are classified as Category V protected landscapes according to the IUCN. National parks are just one of several designations used to protect and conserve Scotland’s landscape and natural environment. Public access to most lands in Scotland is regulated by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which allows the public to enjoy activities such as walking, camping, cycling, canoeing, swimming, and climbing, as long as it is done responsibly as set out by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

List of National Parks in Scotland

History of the Scottish National Parks Network

The concept of national parks first arose in the United States in the 1860s, with the creation of protected areas like Yosemite. John Muir, a Scot, was one of the early advocates for the preservation of nature in the United States and played a key role in establishing national parks and reserves in Scotland, as well as in the overall conservation movement for the country’s wildlife and flora.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea of protecting remote or wild areas and promoting public access gained popularity. In 1931, the creation of a national park in the Cairngorms in Scotland was proposed, along with proposals for parks in England and Wales. However, after World War II, while England and Wales established 10 national parks between 1951 and 1957, no full national parks were created in Scotland. Instead, areas were designated as "National Park Direction Areas," which gave the central government powers to review planning decisions made by local authorities.

Although there were reports and recommendations over the years, it wasn’t until the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 that concrete measures were taken. The two current Scottish national parks were designated as such under the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, one of the first laws passed by Parliament. Since then, no additional national parks have been established in Scotland, although the Cairngorms National Park was expanded in 2010 to include an additional part of Perthshire.

Proposed Future National Parks

Map of Scotland's National Parks and Protected Areas

In June 2005, the Scottish Executive announced plans to establish the first coastal and marine national park in Scotland. Five possible locations were considered for this project, including the Solway Firth, Argyll Islands and Coast, Ardnamurchan, the Small Isles and South Skye Coast, the North Skye Coast and Wester Ross, as well as North Uist, the Sound of Harris, Harris, and South Lewis. However, as of 2023, no marine park had been established.

In 2011, the Scottish Government rejected a proposal to create a national park on the Isle of Harris. Later, in 2013, the Scottish Campaign for National Parks proposed seven additional areas, including Harris, Wester Ross, Glen Affric, Mull and the Small Isles (planned as a marine park), Ben Nevis, Glen Coe and the Black Mount, Galloway, and the Cheviot Hills. However, none of these proposals became national parks.

Following the power-sharing agreement between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens after the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, the government committed to designating at least one additional national park by 2026. Areas interested in applying were invited to submit applications between October 2023 and February 2024. As of October 2023, councils and local groups from areas such as Galloway, the Scottish Borders, Tay Forest, Ben Nevis and Lochaber, Eilean a’ Cheo (Skye and Raasay), Affric to Alladale, Glen Affric, the Lammermuir Hills and the Long Bay, as well as Loch Awe, were considering applying for national park status.

Location Map of Scotland’s National Parks