Last weekend I made my first visit to the Peak District, which became the UK's first National Park in 1951, and where I enjoyed a very pleasant 10-mile walk up and around Curbar, Froggatt and White Edges on the Saturday.

Those who know me as a person of sedentary habits, and imagine (correctly) that my idea of exertion is turning the pages of the latest Lee Child or, as it may be, examining the cinematic oeuvre of Steven Seagal, rolling cigarettes the while, may be surprised by this admission. But the scenery was so beautiful, and the anticipated pint of Chatsworth Gold at the end so enticing, that I can readily picture myself doing that sort of thing more often. Besides, there's practically nowhere else you can smoke these days.

So it was with a positively evangelical interest that I, now certified as a seasoned hill-walker and outdoorsman, fell upon the remarks of Fiona Logan. As chief executive of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, she suggested that the private sector might become more involved in generating revenue for the area, and that more could be done to ensure the national park became self-sufficient.

Ms Logan stressed that these were her personal opinions, in part shaped by her own background in the private sector; the national park authorities have been quick to add that it is not a call for privatisation, but merely an exploration of options which might make the area less dependent on revenue from the Scottish Government.

But Dave Morris, of Ramblers Scotland, thought these rather modest notions raised "serious questions" and Ms Logan was "losing the plot", while Bill McDermott, chairman of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, expressed the view that commercialisation was "selling off the silver" and he "would hate to have a park where everything was privatised".

The great advantage for me, with my one quick walk in a national park, over these gentlemen, with their long experience and expertise in the field, is that I may notice something so obvious that it no longer occurs to them. And that is that even if Ms Logan were calling for the privatisation of national parks (which she isn't), she'd be, as she'll be perfectly well aware, barking up entire forests of wrong trees. For national parks, despite the name, are not nationalised parks.

Their status has nothing to do with the ownership of the land, but the management of planning applications, conservation activities and the preservation of areas of outstanding natural beauty. The last time I looked, large chunks of Stirling, which lies within the park, were in private hands, without that small detail having undermined the general principle of the place – just as the Duke of Devonshire's estates, the town of Bakewell and, for that matter, much of the West of Sheffield and some outskirts of Manchester, are within the Peak District Park.

Ownership is a red herring. Who owns any bit of a national park ought to have no more effect on its character than who owns a house which happens to be listed, or in a conservation area. What matters are the restrictions on preserving their character.

The fact that we think of the great outdoors as natural is another thing likely to lead us away from this point. Humanity has been shaping the landscape for millennia; mankind's footprints are every bit as much present in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs as they are in Ruchazie or Craigmillar, even if they don't seem so obvious.

What's more, some – no, almost all – of this historical rural activity is, it pains me to report, of a commercial nature. Much of the UK's moorland, which we are used to thinking of as unspoilt wilderness, is – as some Green activists have complained – the result of deliberate cultivation by large landowners for sporting purposes. The forests which the Government, until it caved into public pressure, planned to sell off a couple of years ago did not include "heritage" woodland, but were mostly commercial plantations – often of inappropriate, even environmentally damaging, species.

Indeed, the Forestry Commission, which owns 6% of Scotland, exemplifies the fact that national ownership of the rural environment is not necessarily a good thing. It has lost money – currently about £50 million annually – every year for 80 years, while failing to make the UK self-sufficient in timber, either for pits in peacetime (their original purpose) or even during the Second World War. According to many experts, it has also been an unmitigated environmental disaster.

By contrast, huge swathes of Britain's countryside being in private ownership does not endanger them. They are not untouched, for they are managed and maintained as assiduously as urban areas, but they maintain their special character because that management is for rural priorities; as arable or grazing land, for fishing, shooting or other country sports, or the production of a host of natural products.

What Mr Morris and Mr McDermott presumably fear when they express their worries about "commercialisation" are activities which would destroy the qualities of rural communities and national parks, or restrict public access to areas of natural beauty.

It is easy to sympathise with those concerns – I would be very surprised if anyone involved in the administration of our national parks, including Ms Logan, did not – but their own organisations, and others like them, have been very effective in lobbying for the wider public interest. One of the chief sparks for the whole national parks movement, after all, was the Kinder Trespass, more than 80 years ago, in which ramblers set out en masse across the moors in an act of civil disobedience.

Of course one can imagine corporations proposing short-sighted and aesthetically idiotic schemes; but the land's ownership would have no bearing on whether they would be granted permission.

The importance of the national parks for the tourist industry – and it is difficult to think of many countries more dependent on their natural scenery than Scotland, when it comes to attracting foreign visitors – is so blindingly obvious that even the most bone-headed middle-manager can see that any enterprise which despoiled it would be self-defeating.

Most activity, including tourism, in the national parks is commercial already; guesthouses, outdoor sports, pubs, restaurants, parking facilities are all essential components, as are more traditional rural industries such as farming, fisheries and forestry.

The suggestion that the parks should try to benefit from this revenue, rather than be beholden to the Government for 95% of their income, is not privatisation. If anything, it is the most reliable way for them to safeguard their unique character, by ensuring they keep control of what they hold in trust for everyone.