A big opportunity, but how they manage the Lake District is the art

SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

It has been warmly welcomed by most. It will give the area a higher profile around the world, make it more attractive to visitors and give it more weight when it comes to national decisions and funding. And by association, Cumbria will also benefit.

National Trust Ranger Jessie Binns and ultra fell runner Steve Birkinshaw planting saplings on Cat Bells
National Trust Ranger Jessie Binns and ultra fell runner Steve Birkinshaw planting saplings on Cat Bells

But not everyone is so sure about the benefits of the Lake District National Park finally winning World Heritage status from UNESCO – the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

There have been fears that the award could mean extra pressure on an already creaking infrastructure.

Narrow roads will become more clogged, more strain will be placed on mountain rescuers, sites for new homes will have to be found.

Others are concerned that it will toughen already tight planning rules and could stifle the development and sustainability of local communities.

Tim Foster is head of the Field Studies Council Blencathra Centre, an environmental education charity.

Every year the centre hosts more than 8,000 education visitors from over 300 schools and universities across the country.

They come to learn the ecology and history of the land.

 Tim Foster

Tim Foster

He welcomed the granting of World Heritage status: “Overall it is a good thing.

“If you want to look at the landscape there is nothing out there that is a natural landscape.

“It is already managed and that is what the world heritage award has captured.

“It is the people who have worked in the National Park that are responsible for the award.

“It is the preserved landscape that the 18m visitors a year cherish and it is maintained by farming.

“It will bring in a different type of tourist – top-end wealthy ones. It may bring more people to the west coast.”

Three key themes underpinned the bid for World Heritage Site status, recognising the Lake District as a cultural landscape of international significance.

These include world ranking examples of identity – the dramatic farmed landscape; inspiration – art, literature and love of the place.

This, in turn, sparked the birth of conservation.

Jan Wilkinson wants to see conservation and development to sustain the area.

It was 20 years ago that the late Mark Weir reopened the working slate mine and adventure attraction at the head of Honister Pass.

As his partner, Jan helped him build up the business and raise a family.

 Jan Wilkinson

Jan Wilkinson

Before his tragic death, Mark wanted to site a mile-long zip wire down the side of Fleetwith Pike.

The scheme was hugely divisive and the Lake District National Park Authority has twice turned down the project.

Jan is re-applying for planning permission this summer and she hopes the new honour won’t affect her plans.

She points out that the mine’s popular Via Ferrata route raised objections but has become a success without scarring the landscape or causing visitor issues.

And she says the National Park has to strike a balance between providing conservation and sustainability for the area.

She said: “I can’t see any more development. They are wanting to preserve it.

“To me, life is about balance.

“UNESCO has to be thanked, but we need people to dwell here longer, not more visitors.

“The area is as it is today because of the influence of man.

“At Honister, we have to look after the mine and we are in a privileged position as caretakers.

“But we have to have that balance to survive, we have to have children, they have to go to school. We have to have communities that are vibrant and look after each other.”

 Bill Jefferson

Bill Jefferson

Bill Jefferson is a former Lake District National Park Authority chairman and remains on the National Park partnership.

The Allerdale councillor believes it can only be a good thing for the county and the region as a whole.

He sees the award providing a boost for tourism and the economy generally, but insists that affordable housing remains the key priority for the National Park.

“It cannot be a bad thing.

“It is an opportunity, how they manage it is the art.”

He dismisses fears that it could become more a theme park than a national park.

“We need to get a consolidated tourism promotion together for Cumbria.

“It is long overdue. It needs something to coalesce around and this could be it.”

Campaigning environmentalist George Monbiot has long been an outspoken critic of how the park has been managed and has called for hill farming to be scrapped and the area to be returned to its original wilderness.

He believes the award is a disaster for wildlife and the ecology of the area.

“It makes it much harder now to change the direction of our natural heritage and to restore some of the wonder of the living world which have been more or less erased.

“All the documents behind the bid are stuffed with falsehoods and omissions.

 George Monbiot

George Monbiot

“UNESCO has been comprehensively misled.

“Falsehoods such as farming and nature being in harmony when sheep farming has been the biggest cause of environmental destruction in the country.

“The bid is based on a fairytale, an arcadian idyll of sheep farming and shepherds that doesn’t exist.

“It is a shocking exercise in self-deception and perpetuates falsehoods UNESCO wanted to believe in.”

Unsurprisingly, his views aren’t matched by local hill farmers.

Viv Lewis, of the Federation of Cumbria Commoners – sheepfarmers who work the hills – gave a cautious welcome to the announcement.

She said it recognised the generations of farmers that have worked the landscape and could help them overcome problems caused by Brexit.

“Farmers are immensely proud that this way of farming is being recognised internationally.

“They are feeling pretty beleaguered by environmentalists and campaigners like George Monbiot who say wildlife is declining as a result.

“No one knows what the measure will bring, it sounds like most of the benefits will come for tourism.

“A lot of farmers have campsites and B&Bs and there might be extra cachet to stay on a farm in a World Heritage Site.

 Viv Lewis

Viv Lewis

“But, in the wake of Brexit, we face uncertain times and our way of farming is at risk.

“Our aim is to see the present number of farm holdings retained in the Lake District so that the special qualities recognised by UNESCO are still around into the next century and beyond.

“We ask the Government to actively support the future of commoning systems so we can farm and continue to deliver environmental and cultural benefits.”

Tim Foster doesn’t agree that the UNESCO title adds an extra layer of protection, or toughens rules against change, and added: “I don’t see things ruled out across the board. There may be selective zones for different types of activities.

“Rather than another layer of protection, it is an opportunity to help develop.

“Landscape is dynamic it is always changing and there will still be development.

“To maintain that landscape, some things do need to be retained, like the drystone walls, farming communities and farming practices.

“Overall, the farming community is more likely to support it because the only thing to keep it in its current state is subsidy and the recognition will help them win funding.

“Maybe it will add more infrastructure. We have a world-class landscape, but we don’t have world-class toilets or road or rail links and we need that investment It gives the region more kudos for funding.”

Friday, July 14, 2017 at 11:39AM
Comment on this article

Generate a new code
Comments not OK? Click here to let us know