It’s not that I didn’t notice that The Lake District had been given World Heritage Status, it’s just that I haven’t had time to comment on it. And haven’t had time to keep up with the torrent of comment sparked by George Monbiot’s articles (The Lake District’s world heritage site status is a betrayal of the natural world, The Lake District is indeed a Sheep-wrecked landscape; The Lake District as a World Heritage Site – what a disaster that would be) – with which I very largely agree (so no need for me to comment when someone much better has already done it!).
See also Miles King’s blog on the subject (Sheep-wrecked or a World Heritage Site – thoughts on the Lake District).
In a much-needed and long-overdue tidy-up of my office, I came across an RSPB pamphlet The Uplands – time to change? which came out in 2007.
It uses the Lake District as a case study as follows:
‘The Lake District is widely regarded as a national treasure but, to some, its landscape is severely damaged. The hills are denuded of heather and woodland and show the effects of decades of intensive grazing. In wildlife terms, the Lake District is average, or below average, rather than exceptional. The status and quality of the Park’s environment should be apparent not just in the beauty of its landscape, but in thriving wildlife, and well-husbanded water and soils. The 12 million people who visit the Park each year should leave enthused by the vibrancy of this part of the uplands, and the role of the National Park in protecting and restoring their natural capital.’
The same document proposes a 5-point plan:
That plan still looks good to me today, and still looks needed. And yet the RSPB was part of the partnership bidding for the Lake District World Heritage Site status. Is that because the lengthy document supporting the World Heritage Site status will deliver these actions better than anything else? Or, perhaps the RSPB has changed its mind, for the Lake District hasn’t changed much in the last decade? Or perhaps the RSPB just wants to be in the gang with everyone else?
I can only attempt to answer the first question but the Nomination Document is a mighty pile of words. The Executive Summary tells me little about what might be done – maybe executives don’t feel they need to know things like that (but I thought they did!). Without reading every word of this immensely turgid document (with beguiling images of stupendous views) I did find evidence that all these issues might be addressed in the Strategies section. So, I think that is probably why the RSPB and others will have supported the bid. So, a big test of the World Heritage Status and its partnership is whether the status is seen as a badge of approval or as an incentive to make radical changes to land use and benefit people and wildlife. We’ll see.
What sort of countryside do we want? After all, we are all paying for it through our taxes. Here are three books to read to help you decide what you think about the Lake District:
Take a long look at George Monbiot’s book, Feral, and see what he says about rewilding. It’s one of the most inspiring, irritating, provocative and persuasive books of recent times. It isn’t the last word on the subject, nor the first, but it is probably the best.
Fiona Reynolds’s The Fight for Beauty is another excellent book and has a lot about the Lake District in it. It addresses landscape beauty to a much greater extent than wildlife beauty – just like the Lake District does. And I notice that my review discusses the Lake District as an example of the non-congruence of wildlife richness and landscape beauty.
And last but not really least, read James Rebanks’s superbly written, though partly in my mind wrong-headed, book, The Shepherd’s Life, about the wonderful job that sheep farmers have done in the Lake District. Brilliantly written to appeal to townies this best-seller glosses over the damage done to the environment from sheep-wrecking. Phenomenal read though – this was my book of the year in 2015 for what it’s worth! Rebanks played a part in the World Heritage Site bid – no surprise, he farms in the Lake District and is a consultant on protected areas.
Read all three books, and then see what you think about the Lake District…