Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks extended
Two of England's most renowned national parks are to be extended to create a vast area of almost continuous protected land, the Government has said.
The Yorkshire Dales will be increased by almost 24% and the Lake District by 3% to virtually join up the two parks into the largest area of National Park land stretching across Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.
It is hoped the move will boost tourism, support rural businesses and add to the £4 billion a year generated by visitors to National Parks.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "The Dales and the Lakes have some of our country's finest landscapes, beautiful vistas and exciting wildlife. They are part of our national identity.
"I am delighted to be able to announce this extension which will join these two unique National Parks and protect even more space for generations to come.
"National Parks are fabulous national assets that welcome over 90 million tourists and contribute to our vibrant rural economy - we are committed to helping them thrive."
The long-awaited decision means an additional 188 square miles of land across Cumbria, and a small part of Lancashire, will become protected areas.
The Lake District will be extended to the south to include an area from Helsington Barrows to Sizergh Fell and an area north of Sizergh Castle and part of the Lyth Valley, and east from Birkbeck Fells Common to Whinfell Common that will take the National Park up to the M6.
On the other side of the motorway, the Yorkshire Dales will be significantly extended to include part of the Orton Fells, the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang.
Further south, the Yorkshire Dales will be extended west to include Barbon, Middleton, Casterton and Leck Fells, the River Lune and part of Firbank Fell and other fells west of the River Lune.
The extension areas will come into effect in August 2016.
The announcement marks the end of a two-year wait for campaigners in favour of the extensions for a Government decision on the planning inspector's report, which was submitted in October 2013 to the Environment Secretary after a public inquiry.
Government agency Natural England's chairman Andrew Sells said the National Parks represented some of England's most treasured natural assets.
"With international appeal, their stunning landscapes stand out as a beacon to the people who come to enjoy them, whilst their intrinsic value drives the communities, businesses and biodiversity they support.
"Extending these today confirms their great importance and provides them with the recognition they richly deserve," he said.
Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Campaign for National Parks, said: " This is absolutely fantastic news.
"Very simply, these are beautiful, inspiring and important areas of the countryside that always deserved to be part of our National Parks.
"They were originally excluded because of administrative reasons but now, after years of hard work by a lot of people, this is now going to be put right."
Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said: "It is great to hear that the Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss, has agreed this extension, forming a 'bridge' that includes iconic landscapes such as the Orton and Howgill Fells in Yorkshire and large tracts of common land in Cumbria.
"This announcement has been a long time coming.
"Only our finest landscapes are granted National Park status. National Parks enjoy the highest level of planning protection and are exemplars of sustainable development.
"The challenge now is to ensure that the two National Park Authorities have the resources they need to protect and enhance these landscapes in the long-term."
The National Trust welcomed the news. It owns 25% of the Lake District National Park including England's highest mountain Scafell Pike and farms donated by author Beatrix Potter, and manages 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) of land in the Yorkshire Dales.
Mike Innerdale, National Trust assistant director of operations in the north region, said: "These treasured landscapes play such an important part in connecting people to beautiful places, rich in nature and wonderful human stories.
"The two new larger national parks mean that we'll be able to work more effectively with our partner organisations on a bigger scale to enrich the natural environment and create the space for wildlife and people to flourish.
"We especially welcome the recognition of the scenic, cultural and ecological qualities of the National Trust's Sizergh Estate and the contribution that this special place will make to the newly expanded Lake District National Park in the future."