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A country park is an area designated for people to visit and enjoy recreation in a countryside environment. The purpose of a country park is to provide somewhere for visitors who do not necessarily want to go out into the wider countryside. Visitors can enjoy a public open space with an informal atmosphere, as opposed to a formal park as might be found in an urban area. For this reason country parks are usually found close to or on the edge of built-up areas, and rarely in the countryside proper.
A country park usually has some more formal facilities, such as a car park, toilets, maybe a cafe or kiosk, paths and trails, and some information for visitors. Some have much more, with museums, visitor centres, educational facilities, historic buildings, farms and all sorts of things.
There are about 250 recognised country parks in England and Wales. Most country parks were designated in the 1970s, under the Countryside Act 1968 with the support of the former Countryside Commission (now Natural England). In more recent times there has been no specific financial support for country parks directly, and fewer have been designated. Most are managed by local authorities, although other organisations and private individuals can also run them. There is nothing to stop anyone opening a site and calling it a Country Park, although they might not receive recognition from the Countryside Agency. Indeed there are quite a few such parks in existence, some of which are very far from what one might normally expect a country park to be.
There is not necessarily any public right of access to Country Parks, and visitors are usually subject to by-laws when they enter the park. Some charge for car parking, some are free.
These parks vary tremendously from one to another, and really have only their purpose in common: to provide easy access to the countryside for those living in the towns and suburbs. They do not necessarily have any great nature conservation interest, although often this is the case.