Three of the biggest threats to national parks explained

Our planet is covered with diverse landscapes, and houses a beautiful array of animal species and plant life that we are all responsible for protecting. For those who love to travel and enjoy nature at its most spectacular and rare, we have, as a species, claimed 6% of the Earth’s surface as national parks or similarly protected areas, in order to preserve their natural beauty and geological mastery.

But despite these efforts, there are still many threats to national parks across the world. From the impact of mass tourism to global climate changes, conservation efforts are constantly evolving in response to a multitude of factors that threaten to jeopardise these unique areas. Here, we explore three of the biggest threats to national parks.

Erosion of the landscape

Grey smoke filling the sky from a forest fire in Calwood National Park
Photo by Malachi Brooks on Unsplash

Humans are naturally curious, a trait which has contributed to us to dominating the Earth and conquering the vast majority of its land as our own – but often, we interfere to the point where the natural balance becomes skewed and delicate ecosystems and rare species suffer. From poaching to deforestation, it’s clear why we need to set clear boundaries and protect our most precious natural habitats and landscapes. But once they have attained a national park status, the fight isn’t over.

Over visitation of protected areas can upset the balance of their ecosystems and negatively impact the fauna and flora that reside there. It’s something of a dilemma, as the funding needed to maintain and protect the landscapes comes from tourism – however, the environment is degraded by excessive foot traffic. For example, the Lake District in the UK sees around 15.8 million visitors annually, which has dramatically increased the weathering of the footpaths and fells of its valleys and lakesides.

Not only does the immense amount of footsteps erode the landscape, but wildlife and vegetation are continuously disturbed. This can lead to lakeside erosion and the decline in numbers of certain species.

Danger to endemic species

More visitors also means more risk to the animals that call some national parks home, and as a result there are strict regulations and consequences in place for harming them. One remarkable example of this is when a man was sentenced to a year in prison for entering the only place in the entire world where the extremely rare, endemic pupfish live – a small but astonishingly deep creek in Death Valley. This area is so fiercely protected it looks more like a prison than the home of these tiny fish, as a result of the rangers’ desperate attempts to protect the species from being eliminated due to over visitation and irresponsible behaviour.

Fortunately, most of the people who visit national parks do so because they love and respect nature, but it only takes a small percentage of tourists to devastate a protected area. Visitors who leave litter, interfere with wildlife, disturb nests or habitats, start fires in unsafe areas or pollute the waterways with chemical waste can cause decades worth of damage to an area in just a short period of time.

Vandalism and over visitation

Precious and ancient landmarks are irreplaceable, yet many suffer vandalism and damage from reckless visitors. Over visitation also brings an increase in air pollution in a specific area, due to the vehicles people use to travel to the parks. Plus, a rise in visitors can lead to an increase in emergency service demand, as a result of accidents and people underestimating nature.

In turn, this again can increase air pollution, disturb habitats and remove these services from others who need them. Ignoring the rules and signs in national parks leads to wildlife being agitated and attacking humans, which in turn makes it harder for national parks to protect them and allow them to roam freely within the landscape.

Taking responsibility

Looking from an orange camping tent to a wooded area on a sunny day.
Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

The best way to safeguard our national parks is to always travel responsibly, following the Leave No Trace principles and ensuring to not disturb any wildlife you come across. By following the regulations put in place by the experts in the area, and travelling to and from national parks as sustainably as possible, you can help protect these amazing natural landscapes.

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