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National scenic area (Scotland) facts for kids

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NSA scotland map opengov
A map of the National Scenic Areas of Scotland

National scenic area (NSA) is a conservation designation used in Scotland, and administered by NatureScot. The designation's purpose is to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to protect them from inappropriate development. There are currently 40 national scenic areas (NSAs) in Scotland, covering 13% of the land area of Scotland. The areas protected by the designation are considered to represent the type of scenic beauty "popularly associated with Scotland and for which it is renowned". As such they tend to be mainly found in remote and mountainous areas, with a review in 1997 noting a potential weakness of national scenic areas was that the original selection placed undue emphasis on mountainous parts of the country. National scenic areas do however also cover seascapes, with approximately 26% of the total area protected by the designation being marine. The designation is primarily concerned with scenic qualities, although designated national scenic areas may well have other special qualities, for example related to culture, history, archaeology, geology or wildlife. Areas with such qualities may be protected by other designations (e.g. national nature reserve) that overlap with the NSA designation.

National scenic areas are designated by the IUCN as Category V Protected Landscapes, the same international category as Scotland's two national parks. Within the United Kingdom the NSA designation is regarded as equivalent to the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The national scenic area designation does not have a high profile when compared to other conservation designations used in Scotland: in 2018 a survey by the National Trust for Scotland found that only 20 % of Scots were "definitely aware" of national scenic areas, compared to 80 % for National Parks.


Main ridge of the cuillin in skye arp
The Cuillin Hills national scenic area.

After the Second World War, the Labour government passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which led to the creation of ten national parks in England and Wales between 1951 and 1957, although no parks were created in Scotland. A committee, chaired by Sir Douglas Ramsay, was however established to consider preservation of the landscape in Scotland. The report, published in 1945, proposed that five areas (Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, the Cairngorms, Glen Coe-Ben Nevis-Black Mount, Wester Ross and Glen Strathfarrar-Glen Affric-Glen Cannich) should receive a level of protection. Accordingly, the government designated these areas as "national park direction areas", giving powers for planning decisions taken by local authorities to be reviewed by central government. After a further review of landscape protection in 1978, additional areas were identified for protection, and in 1981 the direction areas were replaced by national scenic areas, which were based on the 1978 recommendations.

Following the passage of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, two national parks were established: Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and the Cairngorms National Park. Both of these parks included areas that were already designated as national scenic areas, and the NSA designation remains in place alongside national park status for the areas in question.

Scottish Natural Heritage reviewed the national scenic areas between November 2007 and March 2009 to try to identify what makes the scenery of each NSA special; however no formal review into the number and extent has been undertaken since the original report. The current national scenic areas, which therefore remain as originally mapped in 1978, were legally redesignated in 2010. Despite calls from bodies such as the John Muir Trust for the protection to be extended to other areas to protect landscape and support tourism, the Scottish Government has stated that it has no plans to designate further areas. In September 2017 the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee asked the government to explain why it is not reviewing the NSAs.


The Kyles of Bute national scenic area in Argyll and Bute.

There is no equivalent to a national park authority for national scenic areas, rather it is a designation to provide an additional level of protection to specified areas. For developments that would ordinarily require only local authority planning permission the Scottish Government must be informed if advice from NatureScot is ignored. Additionally, there are some classes of development that would not normally require planning permission to proceed when located outwith a national scenic area, but which are subject to controls within them. These developments include the erection of agricultural and forestry buildings over 12 m high, the construction of vehicle tracks for agriculture or forestry purposes (unless forming part of an approved scheme), and local authority roadworks outside present road boundaries costing more than £100,000.

Local authorities can produce a management strategy for each of the NSA within its territory. This strategy defines the area's special qualities and identifies the actions needed to safeguard them. As of 2018, only the three national scenic areas within Dumfries and Galloway have current management strategies .

Public access to all land in Scotland is governed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which grants the public a right of responsible access to most land (and water) for activities such as walking, camping, cycling, canoeing, swimming and climbing; this right applies to land regardless of ownership or whether or not it is in a designated or protected area such as an NSA, providing it is exercised responsibly (as defined by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code).

List of national scenic areas

As of 2020 there were 40 national scenic areas:

Name Photo Land
area (ha)
area (ha)
area (ha)
Local Authorities with areas inside NSA
Assynt-Coigach Suilven from the North West1.JPG 86,539 43,285 129,824 Highland
Ben Nevis and Glen Coe BenNevis2005.jpg 90,334 1,944 92,278 Highland/Argyll and Bute/Perth and Kinross
Cairngorm Mountains Cairn gorm.jpg 65,541 0 65,541 Highland/Aberdeenshire/Moray (also within Cairngorms National Park)
Cuillin Hills Main ridge of the cuillin in skye arp.jpg 22,726 4,594 27,320 Highland
Deeside and Lochnagar Ancient Caledonian Forest, Glen Tanar - - 6992.jpg 39,787 0 39,787 Aberdeenshire/Angus (also within Cairngorms National Park)
Dornoch Firth Dornoch Firth - - 52109.jpg 11,542 4,240 15,782 Highland
East Stewartry Coast Rough Firth - - 1806562.jpg 8,447 1,173 9,620 Dumfries and Galloway
Eildon and Leaderfoot EildonScottsView.jpg 3,877 0 3,877 Scottish Borders
Fleet Valley Water of Fleet - - 652202.jpg 5,373 481 5,854 Dumfries and Galloway
Glen Affric Islands - panoramio (2).jpg 18,837 0 18,837 Highland
Glen Strathfarrar Loch Beannacharan - - 446641.jpg 4,027 0 4,027 Highland
Hoy and West Mainland Old man of hoy2.jpg 16,479 7,928 24,407 Orkney Islands
Jura Sheep on the beach. - - 320351.jpg 21,072 9,245 30,317 Argyll and Bute
Kintail Five Sisters of Kintail.jpg 16,070 1,079 17,149 Highland
Knapdale Rugged Knapdale moorland - - 825981.jpg 20,821 12,011 32,832 Argyll and Bute
Knoydart The path south from Barrisdale - - 503138.jpg 40,201 10,495 50,696 Highland
Kyle of Tongue Ben Loyal and the Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland (3-06-2011, 19-25-02).jpg 21,093 3,396 24,488 Highland
Kyles of Bute Kyles-of-bute-2013-10-12.jpg 4,723 1,016 5,739 Argyll and Bute
Loch Lomond Loch Lomond, looking south from Ben Lomond.jpg 28,077 0 28,077 Argyll and Bute/Stirling/West Dunbartonshire (also within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park)
Loch na Keal, Isle of Mull Boat Cave.JPG 13,507 30,742 44,250 Argyll and Bute
Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon Glen Lyon - - 12596.jpg 48,625 0 48,625 Perth and Kinross/Stirling
Loch Shiel Glenfinnan monument and Loch Shiel.jpg 13,045 0 13,045 Highland
Loch Tummel Schotland Queen's View 8-05-2010 10-39-44.JPG 9,013 0 9,013 Perth and Kinross
Lynn of Lorn CastleCoeffinLismore-ARuinedMacDougallStronghold(ColinSmith)Aug1995.jpg 5,638 10,088 15,726 Argyll and Bute
Morar, Moidart and Ardnamurchan Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Pasture.jpg 17,220 19,736 36,956 Highland
North Arran Sunset on goatfell.jpg 20,360 6,943 27,304 North Ayrshire
Nith Estuary River Nith at Ellisland.JPG 14,310 28 14,337 Dumfries and Galloway
North West Sutherland Ben Stack - - 820662.jpg 23,415 3,151 26,565 Highland
River Earn (Comrie to St. Fillans) Placid stretch of the River Earn near St Fillans Hill, Perthshire - - 1584715.jpg 3,108 0 3,108 Perth and Kinross
River Tay (Dunkeld) Perth and Kinross Dunkeld Tay.jpg 5,708 0 5,708 Perth and Kinross
Scarba, Lunga and the Garvellachs The Corryvreckan Whirlpool - geograph-2404815-by-Walter-Baxter.jpg 2,139 4,402 6,542 Argyll and Bute
Shetland Puffin Party IMG 3348 (19674441423).jpg 15,486 26,347 41,833 Shetland Islands
Small Isles Eigg-and-Rum-from-mainland.jpg 16,271 30,964 47,235 Highland
South Lewis, Harris and North Uist Scotland Harris 1.jpg 112,301 90,087 202,388 Western Isles
South Uist Machair South Uist machair (timniblett).jpg 6,289 7,025 13,314 Western Isles
St Kilda The Street.jpg 865 6,101 6,966 Western Isles
The Trossachs Wooded area of the Trossachs and Loch Katrine.jpg 4,850 0 4,850 Stirling (also within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park)
Trotternish The Storr by Grinner.jpg 6,128 1,789 7,916 Highland
Upper Tweeddale Farmland, Manor Valley - - 198958.jpg 12,770 0 12,770 Scottish Borders
Wester Ross Liathach from Beinn Eighe.jpg 143,881 19,574 163,456 Highland
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