The Lake District has become the UK’s first national park to be designated a World Heritage site following a recent meeting of the Unesco committee in Krakow, Poland.
The UK and overseas territories now have 31 sites on the World Heritage list, including the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and the East Devon Coast, the Tower of London and the archipelago of St Kilda (Scotland).
The Lake District’s bid to gain World Heritage status highlighted the differing views on the best future for the national park. On the one side are those who believe that it is primarily a cultural, farmed landscape, and that visitors to the area come to see sheep and other livestock feeding on the fells.
Then there are those who say intensive sheep farming, propped up by agricultural subsidies, has left the lakes ecologically barren and devoid of biodiversity, and some fear that World Heritage status will merely entrench the paucity of wildlife. Some of these people, such as the writer and campaigner George Monbiot, want to see much of the national park revert to woodland as it would once have been.
Two Herdwick sheep in Borrowdale, an area south of Keswick. © Andrew Locking
The RSPB area reserve manager for Cumbria, Bill Kenmir, told BBC Wildlife in an interview for the July issue, that change is coming, but it is likely to be quite gradual.
“There would be more trees, but not to the extent that it’s forest,” said Bill Kenmir, RSPB’s area reserves manager for Cumbria.
“The close-up details would change – there’d be more hay meadows, more flowers – but the views wouldn’t change at all. People fear landscape change, but it tends to be slow and cumulative.”
A partnership of 25 organisations including the RSPB, National Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust were involved with the bid for World Heritage Status.
“People sit on the fells with a sandwich and like to see the sheep around them and the cattle down in the meadows,” said Adam Day, managing director of The Farmer Network – a membership organisation mainly for farmers in Cumbria. “They don’t want wilderness, they want open access.”
Discussing the bid for World Heritage status in an article for the Guardian (before it was granted), Monbiot said, “This great national property has degenerated into a sheepwrecked wasteland. And the national park partnership that submitted the bid wants to keep it this way.”
Main image: Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District. © Andrew Locking