Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Unesco's Lake District award: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The news that The English Lake District has received UNESCO World Heritage status-up there with Machu Picchu and The Great Barrier Reef- has been met with mixed reactions depending on one’s perspective. For environmentalist, George Monbiot, writing of the possibility back in May, it would be...and now is presumably..’a disaster!’. For like a lot of environmentalists, George sees the Lake District as one of many UK ‘Sheepwrecked landscapes’. An artificial environment where a once healthy and diverse ecosystem has been bludgeoned to near death by the heavy hand of man. All in the interest of profit above ecological sustainability.

In particular, the farming and landowning community who own so much of the Lake District and who have left the mountains and valleys tamed and de-wilded through their agricultural and forestry activities. Hillsides once richly laden with trees now grazed to the bone. Valleys similarly tamed, manicured and reworked in the accepted contemporary tourist chocolate box image.

For the Lake District Tourist Chief Executive, Richard Leafe, it’s ‘Great News!’ which will see at least a 20% increase in the number of Lake District visitors. Great News indeed...if you are looking forward to sitting in an 8 mile tailback on the Kendal By-Pass approaching Windermere, instead of a 5 mile tail back! The thing is, the last thing the Lake District needs is more tourists. As someone who does in fact like the Lakes, even though it is in effect a manicured park as opposed to a wild mountain area-like many people, I wouldn’t go within a hundred miles of the place during the summer holidays. Winter and late autumn are the best times to visit although compared to North Wales and Scotland, it’s still fairly busy. Spring is an option although by then it becoming noticeably busier, but come the third week in July....Release Hell!’

Places like Bowness, Ambleside and Keswick resemble London’s Oxford Street for crowds and who in their right mind would put themselves through that?? So...what exactly will UNESCO World Heritage status bring to the table? Actually...nothing really. The same planning laws will apply. The same wages will be paid to Polish bar staff and Romanian hotel chamber maids. The car parks will still be full. The B&B’s and self catering cottages will still charge an arm and a leg and the pubs will still sell their beer at marked up prices compared to northern town and city prices. People will still queue to climb on Raven crag, walk in a slow convoy up Helvellyn, tear arse around Grizedale Forest on mountain bikes and picnic in great numbers on Catbells.

But it will give Tourist advertising agencies another angle to sell the dream. The images will inevitably show snow topped mountains, a boat gently bobbing on empty waters, red squirrels, daffodils and long dead poets. The UNESCO award could though be seen as rewarding farming bad practice. Furthermore it rewards a ruthlessly exploited property system, driven by wealthy outsiders, which has led to social cleansing of local people. Victims of sky high property prices and the second home boom which brings in train the inevitable social consequences. Lake District second homes equals school closures, shops and post offices closed down. Bus services ended. Once living villages reduced in winter to slumbering film sets where no dog barks, the windows are shuttered and the chimneys are dead and cold.  It rewards short sighted bureaucrats who are more concerned with profits and numbers than sustainability, and it uses a very narrow market definition of what constitutes a site worthy of world heritage status.

I will still visit the Lakes to pick off some of the summits I’ve never done and take a sup for old times sake in the ODG, but the whole UNESCO thing leaves me quite cold I’m afraid. You do have to question the credentials of UNESCO officials AND the Lake District blow in Petite bourgeoisie who have driven this ill conceived exercise in self promotion over environmental impact.


  1. My initial thoughts were similar ....even bigger queues at the over-priced supermarket check-outs and pubs and lanes clogged with the vehicles of folk bagging a few more Wainwrights. I think however that this was on the cards anyway - the Lake District has been so well promoted in TV programmes and films in recent years that an increase in visitors is inevitable.
    My hope (and it may a vain hope) is that UNESCO World Heritage status will focus the collective minds of those responsible for the National Park to plan and execute development more responsibly than they have in the past.
    ---RANT ENDS-----

  2. As a local living in Ambleside, working in the National Park, an active member of. Ambleside Civic Trust, I love these kind of polemics driven by cliches. Let's see. 1. 'using a narrow market definition of what constitutes a site worthy of world heritage status' ? What ? I've read both the LDNP bid documentation and the criteria for inscription. I must have missed the paragraphs about WHS and them having to meet economic market protocols. Because there aren't any. That statement simply doesn't make any sense. Oh. There's 2 (even better) : 'an ill conceived exercise in self promotion over environmental impact' ????? What a load of cobblers that is. The Lake District (along with good old John Muir) led the world in inspirational conservation movements. Those movements have resulted in the protection and conservation of landscapes and heritage sites across the planet. If that is self promotion, then let's have more of it please. And some considered expertise in assessing the relevance of World Heritage status, not ignorance.

  3. If you took your Ambleside Civic Centre Rose coloured glasses off for a minute, you would see where people who think this is a bad idea-from an ecological and social perspective- are coming from. Its rewarding agricultural bad practice for a start. The massive overgrazing of the fells which has seen them become cropped ecological deserts.Capable of supporting a very limited ecosystem. Devoid of many species which could thrive in the uplands where it not turned over for profit. I notice in George Monbiot's article yesterday,that Lake District farmer James Rebanks was paid thirty grand for basically writing a report saying environmentally speaking, everything is dandy..That's outrageous actually and doesn't do Rebanks or the bureaucrats who commissioned him any favours.

    I guess you are willing to accept periodic flooding of places like Cockermouth, Patterdale & Glenridding, Keswick etc, because of the denuding of the fells by our four legged friends. After all,the BBC Countryfile view of the Lakes as created by our heroic farmers and their Herdwicks is more important,it appears,than diversifying into more sustainable areas of agriculture and bringing some life back into the uplands.

    No mention of social cleansing? Local people driven out of the Lakes by second home owners. Those pretty little villages dead but preserved in aspic for tourists?

    You can see in Richard Leafe's reaction that this was all about marketing the Lakes as a commercial product over any environmental considerations, Why else put an actual figure on the expected increase in tourists?

    The irony of historical conservation figures like Ruskin, Rawnsley and Hill is that they would be turning in the graves if they were around the witness the ecologically degraded theme park the Lakes had become. I imagine that they would enthusiastically support any efforts to restore ecological diversity to the uplands as much as Monbiot.

    The Lake District in fact is no more worthy of WHS than Snowdonia or The Peak District. In fact Snowdonia probably retains more relatively unspoiled and diverse areas than the Lakes. The Lakes does though, hold the 'advantage' in that it has a more more affluent and influential proportion of its population who are driven by both commercial interest and self promotion. Environmental considerations don't come into it.