In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, national parks are in IUCN Category V rather than II.

Are there any protection levels stricter than what UK National Parks have?

  • I don't think we are really big enough for that, but most National Trust or Forestry commision land is protected. Usually the logging that occurs is to remove younger trees which, change the percentage population lower meaning it can no longer be classed as ancient woodland, or it's to remove sick trees as we've had issues with Ash trees and disease.
    – Aravona
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 16:20
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    no I mean that none of the parks are really on the same scale as say the USA. Plus the UK breaks it's land care down into a lot of various organisations, mostly National Trust, Scottish NT, English Heritage, Scottish Heritage, Forestry Commision, etc... They each have their own rules for their landcare. Other than the actual Parks, you'll find the National Trusts I believe own most of our ANOBs and land.
    – Aravona
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 16:25
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    Also consider that there really is no 'wilderness' in Britain: the landscape and ecosystems there are the result of millenia of human activity, so it makes little sense to try to preserve a 'wild' that disappeared perhaps before the Romans arrived.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 17:20
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    @Venture2099 I have no clue where you get the idea that I am a US national. I have never lived in the US and only visited there for leisure or for short work trips.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


Although I have not found IUCN Level II protected areas, there do exist areas with a higher level than national parks. So as regards are there at least areas with a protection level stricter than what UK National Parks have?, the answer is yes.

Within England, there are National Nature Reserves. According to Protected Planet, those are protected at IUCN level IV, so one level higher than UK national parks, that are Level V. National Nature Reserves are small areas. The largest is The Wash at 88 km², whereas the smallest is Horn Park Quarry at just 3200 m².

Castle Bottom
Castle Bottom National Nature Reserve. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

There are also sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (including the Giant's Causeway).

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    According to the Scottish link, their NNRs range from under 70 000 m² to over 293 km², so the UK upper bound is more than The Wash. Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 16:32

The UK has an incredibly high population density (262 people per km²). This is one of the highest in the developed world. Though you're correct that there are higher ones; Holland has a higher one actually, but they also have space issue, that's why the reclaim land using dykes, etc.

The UK was also the birthplace of the industrial revolution in the 1800-1900s, and as such land was needed to build ships, mine coal, etc. for the expanding empire (the UK had one of the biggest empires in the modern era). This led to much more intensive usage of the wild areas (for example see the Highland Clearances in Scotland, etc.)

So the UK has a very long tradition of intensive farming. All mountain areas in the UK have been sheep farms for thousands of years and the industrial revolution/British Empire led to this being expanded massively.

So first off, it's not really fair to compare the UK with somewhere like Lapland (Norway's population density is 15 people per km²).

Now that said, you make a good point about Hoge Kempem. Belgium is even more densely populated than the UK. But does this region have the same tradition of farming and management? Belgium did develop industrially in the 19C but I would wager not to the extent or pace that the UK did.

What I'm really trying to say, I suppose, is, that each country has its own pressures over long periods of time. The UK could likely do more but its traditions and culture are different to many other countries.

Are there any natural areas in the United Kingdom with a protection similar to the internationally recognised protection for national parks? That is, are there protected areas with no mining or logging allowed, and at best very limited farming and human habitation?

No, not really, even the most inaccessible areas of the Highlands have sheep farming.

If not, are there at least areas with a protection level stricter than what UK National Parks have?

No again, the national parks have the highest level of protection in the UK. These have been used intensively though, since before the national parks existed! Turns out I was wrong, see Gerrit answer.

Bear in mind also that the idea of protecting wild areas is a recent one. Yosemite in America being the first one. By this point almost all of the UK was already being intensively farmed.

Gerrit makes a point about the New Forest being the first park; William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. He made the New Forest a hunting park (this is not the same as a modern national park). It is not really a protected habitat as such. It is heavily managed, farmed and even logged.

For a start, The New Forest has a rights of commoners. These people have several farming rights inside the new forest itself, grazing animals mostly.

So the New Forest is still managed by humans and always has been. So effectively this area is still farmed (to a degree) and even deforested. Anyone who's been to the new forest will immediately notice that it's not all wooded (it's roughly 50% heathland without any trees). In fact trees are purposely removed in large areas. This was originally to aid in hunting but has continued traditionally ever since.

Even the famous New Forest deer were introduced from France for hunting and are not a native species. So again, you can't really compare this area to a modern "wilderness".

Another very valid point @aravona raised actually in chat, is that the parks in the UK are not owned by the government. They are all typically owned by private land owners (sometimes this is the Queen or the National Trust, but still private). The park authority simply manages the land and adds extra rules, etc. The main day to day running of the place is done by private individuals. This is why we don't have issues of the parks closing during strikes, etc.

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    I'd say that the new forest is not really protected in the same way, i.e. trying to keep an area wild. This is effectively just a different type of management (commoners have been allowed to farm the new forest though out this period pigs and ponies are still farmed in this landscape). The US national parks were the first attempt to make a place "wild" (though there are arguments that this is un-natural in itself as the native americans had been using this land for millennia before modern americans decided they wanted it "wild")
    – user2766
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 8:45
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    Something else I learned recently: the word forest does not imply trees. Royal forests were areas declared to be outside (Latin foris) the law of the land. So the treeless Forest of Bowland may have been treeless since pre-human times. Of course New Forest differs from modern U.S. wildernesses (but so did Yellowstone when founded!). For current parks it's of course fairer to compare UK to Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany than to US, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Russia.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 10:42
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    Bill Bryson covers this topic regarding the USA in his book A Walk In The Woods where he discusses the U.S obsession with trying to keep the wilderness as wild as possible but, paradoxically, has a history of hunting wild species to extinction to protect farmers. For instance, when the Delaware dam project failed at a cost of millions and the loss of farmland, the ACOE said that it protected the Appalachian Trail as a wilderness. The write-up is very detailed and the USA is unique in this regard, most of Europe has working national parks. Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 15:13
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    Also - it is worth adding in that we have a higher classification called Site of Scientific or Special Interest (SSSI;. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Site_of_Special_Scientific_Interest and the Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB), Nature Reserves, Marine Reserves, the Heritage Coast designation...all require different levels of engagement with planning authorities. Our National Parks are not blanketed like the USA with the Antiquities Act. We have a layered system. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 15:26
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    @Venture2099 all correct! The setting up of Yellowstone (the first park in the US) involved the "relocation" of large numbers of native inhabitants who had actually been managing the "wildernerness" for thousands of years. The people who then set up the park put into place a system to keep the wilderness wild, ignoring the fact that it wasn't wild in the first place!
    – user2766
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 15:57

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