A national park is a reserve of land, usually declared and owned by a national government, protected from most human development and pollution. National parks are protected areas of IUCN category II. The largest national park in the world is the Northeast Greenland National Park, which was established in 1974. According to The World Conservation Union IUCN, there are now 6,555 national parks worldwide (2006 figure).
In 1810, the English poet William Wordsworth described the Lake District as a “sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”. The painter George Catlin, in his travels through the American West, wrote in 1832 that the Native Americans in the United States might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government . . . in a magnificent park . . . A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!” Similar ideas were expressed in other countries—in Sweden, for instance, the Finnish-born Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld made such a proposition in 1880. The Scottish-American naturalist John Muir was inspirational in the foundation of national parks, anticipating many ideas of conservationism, environmentalism, and the animal rights movement.