What is the Sandford Principle?

The Sandford Principle is: “Where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment in National Parks, then conservation interest should take priority.”

What is the Sandford Principle? Illustration of law fending off over-commercialisation

Why was the Sandford Principle created?

The UK set up its first National Parks in the 1950s. However their popularity threatened the very reasons people wanted to visit them, such as wildlife, unique habitats and quiet. Like a child’s favourite soft toy, they were in danger of being hugged to destruction. In 1974 the National Parks Policy Review Committee, led by Lord Sandford, was set up to advise national park authorities on how to balance conservation with visitors.

"National Park Authorities can do much to reconcile public enjoyment with the preservation of natural beauty by good planning and management and the main emphasis must continue to be on this approach wherever possible.

"But even so, there will be situations where the two purposes are irreconcilable... Where this happens, priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty." – Lord Sandford

When was the Sandford Principle made law?

At first the Sandford Principle was just a recommendation. But as the basis of Section 62 of the 1995 Environment Act it is now law. This makes clear that if National Park purposes are in conflict then conservation must have priority. The exact wording is:

"If it appears that there is a conflict between those purposes, [the National Park Authority] shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area."

What are a national park’s purposes?

The reasons a National Park Authority exists, as set out in the 1995 Environment Act, are:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the national park
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the national park by the public

So if a national park is in danger of being ‘hugged’ to destruction, the national park must put conservation first.

How you can stand up for the Sandford Principle

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The Sandford Principle in the news

The Sandford Principle is used across the UK to defend National Parks against over-commercialisation:

More about The Sandford Principle

The Sandford Principle - National Parks

History of the National Park – Lake District National Park Authority

The Sandford Principle – The Broads Society

World Heritage Site status

International legislation also protects the Lake District. In 2017 the Lake District National Park became a World Heritage Site. This is explained as:

“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. 

"What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage Sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”

- UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation)

Who manages the World Heritage Site?

This is done through the Lake District National Park Partnership, of which we are a member.

The Partnership states that:

  • change needs to be balanced and not threaten the reasons why the Lake District is now a World Heritage Site. Significant new developments will need to assessed on their potential benefits and their possible impacts and balanced decisions made.
  • World Heritage Status is not about increasing visitor numbers. The Partnership wants to encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more.

Find out more at: The English Lake District World Heritage Site – FAQs

Any erosion of the Sandford Principle could have serious consequences for the World Heritage Site status of this amazing place.

How you can help 

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