Towards establishment of national parks in Northern Ireland
: suitability, meeting mandates and seeking consensus

  • Nicola Allen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


National parks benefit from the highest levels of environmental protection in the world. Yet, Northern Ireland is the only region within the United Kingdom to elude such a status. Complexities within national parks link to ecological protection, the use and enjoyment of natural resources while also sustaining local livelihoods. This generates entrenched positions by stakeholders living within these settings. However, to date, research focuses on the failings to establish a national park with very limited research aiding the movement of stakeholders from ‘positions of issues’ to ‘positions of interests’ in order to find common ground.

This research aims to assess the potential of national park establishment based on suitability of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) located in Northern Ireland and find consensus between stakeholders that safeguard the national park trimandates of ‘conservation’, ‘use’ and ‘sustainable livelihoods’. To achieve this, the study investigated best practice from best case exemplars, measured attractiveness of AONBs based on suitable attributes, and investigated stakeholder positioning regarding their willingness to compromise against a fully-protect to fully-develop scale. The research design comprised of a mixed methods approach which employed an exploratory multi-phase sequential strategy. It utilised both primary and secondary data including in-depth interviews, content analysis, maps and documentary sources.
The data collection took place between September 2018 and October 2020.

Firstly, the findings revealed ‘partnership’, ‘negotiation and mediation’, ‘communication, engagement and empowerment’, ‘adhering to the national park mandates’, and ‘aligning to national park status’ were all concepts of best practice aiding pre and post national park issues between stakeholders. Secondly, the findings highlighted the most attractive AONBs in Northern Ireland based on natural, built and tourism attraction attributes. Lastly, the findings demonstrated that there has been progress toward the support of national park establishment in Northern Ireland. Stakeholders displayed willingness to compromise, aligning to the park mandates and placing superiority on ecological protection over the use of resources. This research culminates by presenting a conceptual model on identifying the space along the fullyprotect to fully-develop continuum which allows for ‘compromised mandates’ to be satisfied whereby ecological integrity is not compromised by the desire to promote recreation and tourism use and opportunities that facilitate sustainable livelihoods. As such, the conceptual model identifies common ground and potential negotiation to expand that space with the potential third mandate of ‘sustainable livelihoods’ being the key to unlocking the conflicting scenario between the traditional national park dual mandates. As a result, the research contributes knowledge toward stakeholder movement involving positions and interests to seek consensus and reduce the risk of conflicts in a protected area context.
Date of AwardMay 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorStephen Boyd (Supervisor) & Peter Bolan (Supervisor)


  • National parks
  • Mandates
  • Stakeholder interests
  • Common ground
  • Northern Ireland

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