What are our national parks really for?

Attracting more visitors is a noble aim, but it raises potential conflicts with their mission to preserve our natural heritage

We have the Romantic poets to thank for the Lake District, as we understand it today. Previous generations had not cared much for mountain scenery. In the 19th century, the aesthete John Ruskin, a rhapsodic enthusiast for the Lakes who built a house on Coniston Water, poured scorn on classical authors for failing to appreciate natural grandeur. “As far as I recollect, without a single exception, every Homeric landscape intended to be beautiful is composed of a fountain, a meadow and a shady grove,” he wrote.

In the medieval period, Petrarch was the only writer to view…