Lake District World Heritage Site – the journey begins

Douglas Chalmers, from Friends of the Lake District, looks at what World Heritage Site status means for the threats and challenges being faced in the Lake District.

As a member of Lake District National Park Partnership, we're delighted that the Lake District’s Bid for World Heritage Site (WHS) Inscription has been successful, recognising the culmination of a great deal of effort by the Partnership over many years.  We are especially pleased that the bid has focussed attention on the cultural heritage of the area and how it has shaped our current landscape.

In awarding WHS status, UNESCO’s committee praised the area's beauty, farming and the inspiration it had provided to artists and writers including Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. It also recognised that key developments in landscape protection started here. Of course, at Friends of the Lake District we can claim our fair share of that particular credit. But we were pleased that it also suggested that the impact of tourism be monitored and requested improvements be made in the conservation of the area, which is visited by around 18 million people a year.

Our cultural heritage has evolved over many generations and we want this to continue into the future without harming the landscape. So, although Friends of the Lake District welcomes this Inscription, we have some concerns that the resulting increase in publicity and awareness of the Lake District may lead to more unsustainable tourism – and not just an increase in international flights. Of more direct significance to Cumbria, we could see an increase in car journeys and a greater threat of inappropriate developments.

We should take the opportunity World Heritage Inscription gives us to develop and adopt more sustainable tourism practices and transport solutions that will reduce the risk of harm to our landscape while still contributing to economic benefits. We would like to see the status used as a focus to grow the value of sustainable tourism - giving people more reasons to visit while ensuring the landscapes they come to enjoy are managed appropriately. It is this management that will be the key to the success that everybody wants.

World Heritage status gives everyone involved in protecting and enhancing the Lake District National Park a fresh opportunity to ensure that the park is managed sustainably to guarantee the unique qualities of the Lake District are there for future generations to discover.

Achieving WHS status provides a further level of accountability for us all. We can enjoy the moment, but now marks the beginning of a new adventure and we have much to do in ensuring the threats and opportunities are balanced appropriately.

Much of our work and many of our concerns are not born of the Park’s new status but will now be in sharper focus:  

1.            Upland Farming - We and our members are seriously concerned over how we can keep traditional farming families in the hills. Their situation was hard enough before the threat loomed of what happens post-Brexit. They were recognised by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage that made the Bid successful. Post EU-funded support, in a world where there may be no market for lamb, how do we keep these land managers on the land?

2.            Tourism pressures - We will bring this to the Partnership on a regular basis, and will engage in the Local Plan review to ensure adequate policy measures are included to reduce the threats of inappropriate tourism related development. We will also engage in the Development Management process when proposals come forward and object to inappropriate and unsustainable development. While engaging in the LDNPA Local Plan review and all other Local Plans’ development we will ensure adequate restrictions exist within planning policies to limit holiday home numbers and ensure affordable housing is delivered in appropriate locations.

3.            Flood resilience - We are conducting practical research on our own property, that could be included in planning decisions and policy making.

4.            Energy/telecoms infrastructure - Building on the work and success over North West Coast Connections (NWCC) and Moorside into the future.

5.            Transport – As our press release highlighted, we have concerns about sustainable transport in the Lake District National Park and beyond, and also the increased threats due to WHS encouraging a greater numbers of visitors.

6.            Quarrying – This has been identified as a specific threat and one we are tackling. We are meeting Senior Staff at LDNPA this month, continuing to engage in planning, reporting breaches to LDNPA and lobbying for enforcement action where necessary.

7.            Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) – ICOMOS (UNESCO’s scientific advisers) stated that ‘attention should be paid to the proper conservation of the landscape’s defining features and architectural details.’ We will work to develop LCA, a crucial tool in monitoring the landscape condition by providing a baseline and a monitoring framework.

Whether we do so via the Lake District National Park Partnership, directly with the National Park Authority, or by other methods, Friends of the Lake District will continue to follow our aims and objectives into this exciting new period of the Park’s management.

Douglas Chalmers - Chief Executive, Friends of the Lake District

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