Bigger than Brexit? Unesco awards Lake District World Heritage site status.



Every so often something comes along and initially you wonder whether it’ll make any difference. And then it occurs to you that it might be wise to read the fine print. So you heroically refuse to allow umpteen pages of dense bureaucratic prose to put you off and you start reading. As you read you slowly come to realise that the world has changed around you and that nothing can be the same again.

You might or might not have noticed that Unesco has awarded the Lake District World Heritage site status. If you want to read their document it’s at


The people I feel sorry for are the various groups of environmentalists who have been trying to drive sheep from the fells and who have been pursuing their own, often conflicting, environmental agendas. They got what they asked for and perhaps they are now wishing that they hadn’t asked.


What is the most important thing in the Lake District? What holds it all together, keeps it the beautiful place everybody wants to visit? Which body should step forward to accept the grateful plaudits of the masses?
Here I quote Unesco


“ICOMOS generally concurs with the view of the State Party but highlights that the maintenance of the English Lake District’s visual qualities is highly dependent on the sustainability of some 200 shepherding farm families and their herds of “hefted” Herdwick sheep. The system has to face crucial challenges of shifts in global markets, changing agricultural subsidies and schemes, particularly given the exit from the European Union, introduced diseases, and climate change.”


Yes, the whole thing depends of 200 farming families who’re working long hours for very limited financial recompense. In fact I doubt any of them will earn anywhere near as much as the National Trust Agents and National Park officers who spend so much time telling them what they can and cannot do.

Not only that but for the last couple of decades we’ve had the same endless refrain, get the sheep off the hills, cut down numbers. As Unesco says


“In the past, overgrazing and other farming management practices threatened the environmental and natural values of the property. Although these practices have been corrected, there seems to be a certain imbalance in the consideration of the natural values favoured over the cultural values of farming practices. In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”


Basically think of Unesco as the school teacher who’s standing in front of a bunch of big kids (various conservation bodies) and jabbing her finger at them, telling them that they’ve got to stop bullying the little guys.

But let’s just stop a minute and think about this. Government has accepted this. If it’s true for the Lake District, then it’s true for most of our countryside. We’ve got ourselves a good general principle worthy of wide acceptance here.


“In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”
That I should live to see the day!

Another issue we have is that for most Cumbrians, tourism is more of a blight than an economic opportunity. The Lake District has about 40,000 inhabitants. The area gets about 17,000,000 visitors a year. That’s 13,000,000 day visits and 4,000,000 overnight stays.

Just to put that in context I was talking to one Lake District farmer from Langdale. On one May day Bank holiday the Park did a survey of the number of people walking though their lambing fields (while their sheep were lambing) and walking up to  Stickle Tarn. The flow of people averaged 1135 per hour thought the day. That’s what tourism means for the people who are doing the work that maintains the Lake District as people like it.

Fortunately Unesco can see the issue here and has an answer


“ICOMOS recommends that mechanisms are set up to ensure that economic benefits from tourism are increasingly shared also with shepherds and farmers, recognizing the important ecosystem and management services they provide in maintaining the landscape.”


Well fancy that, the peasantry getting a cut of the income stream that only exists because of their work over the centuries. Damned commie pinko stuff this I tell you!


But it isn’t just about the 200 farming families. The Lake District works because it’s a community (or at least that bit that isn’t all second homes). The whole community needs help. Especially when we’re getting floods which cut all the roads due to extreme weather events. Unesco is on the ball as always.



“The management system should be expanded to develop strategies that prevent depopulation, including affordable housing, neighbourhood shops and promotion of local products, strengthen the disaster risk strategies and incorporate into them local knowledge, and develop interpretive plans based on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property so as to assist visitors’ understanding.”


Yes you read it here, we are now to have affordable homes and building within the National Park! If I’d written that last year you’d have assumed I’d been smoking something illegal. Finally there are the additional recommendations. I’m just including them all.

ICOMOS recommends that the State Party gives consideration to the following:

a) Providing assurances that quarrying activities within the property will be progressively downsized and extraction volumes limited to what is needed for carrying out conservation of the assets supporting the attributes of the property,

b) Formally committing to avoiding any negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and related attributes of the property from the NWCC energy transportation facility being currently planned; and informing the World Heritage Centre about the results of the Heritage Impact Assessment, and how these will be integrated into the planning consent and in the development consent order (DCO),

c) Informing about the timeframe of the integration of World Heritage consideration into the local plans and policies,

d) Developing proactive strategies, including alternative national farm-supporting policies, with the farming community, to address the issues that threaten the viability of the shepherding tradition that maintains many of the landscape’s significant attributes; recognising and financially compensating farmers for their heritage services in caring for the cultural landscape, as well as values such as genetic diversity of herds and food security,

e) Rebalancing programs and funding dedicated to improving natural resources with the need to conserve the valuable cultural landscape that the Lake District is by acting on its key attributes and factors,

f) Strengthening risk preparedness strategies for floods and other disasters that incorporate local knowledge on how to cope with recurrent disastrous natural events,

g) Developing convincing programs to prevent depopulation, including:

a) develop affordable housing for new households and for local retirees,

b) ensure that communities have a mix of commercial outlets that serve the local community,

c) further develop and market local products that benefit residents and local farmers,

h) Developing an interpretation strategy at the landscape level which communicates the different strands of the Outstanding Universal Value by using the documents put together for the nomination dossier,

i) Ensuring that careful attention is paid to conservation of landscape-defining features such as land-use patterns, structures such as shelters, dry stone walls, hedgerows, and also to vernacular architecture and Victorian buildings, not only in designated Conservation Areas, but in the whole property,

j) Submit by 1st December 2018 a report on the implementation of the above recommendations to the World Heritage Centre and to ICOMOS;

Not only have they got to work their way through this list,  but they cannot just kick it into the long grass as far too embarrassing to deal with. Teacher expects their homework back in for marking by the 1st December 2018 or there’ll be trouble.

Already the howls are coming up from the vested interests, the liberal commentators and those who earn serious money from writing about conservation. If you want to read a rant of monumental proportions which verges on the hysterical at times, I’d recommend this one, George Monbiot in full flow. The writing is now on the wall and they don’t like what they’re reading.


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16 thoughts on “Bigger than Brexit? Unesco awards Lake District World Heritage site status.

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt July 16, 2017 at 4:06 pm Reply

    Wow! Support from unexpected quarters. I can’t imagine a thousand people walking through a lambing field. Poor ewes!

    Good for you – wish there comes some remuneration from this for the hard-working families.

    • jwebster2 July 16, 2017 at 4:50 pm Reply

      people don’t realise the sheer pressure the numbers of tourists cause. The same chap, when he was gathering sheep off the fell, had to time it so that they were fetching them down into the valley no later than about 8am, because after that you’d have the endless tramp of people heading up, often with dogs ranging on either side of them and you just couldn’t get sheep to go down past them
      So he and his family were often gathering sheep as soon as it was light

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt July 16, 2017 at 5:28 pm

        I’m sure the sheep weren’t please either.

        Is it still possible to carry a blunderbuss with you?

      • jwebster2 July 16, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        Technically if any of them are Scots and it’s after the curfew it might be legal 😉

  2. robbinsg July 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm Reply

    Another fascinating insight into “country life”. Thanks Jim.

  3. rootsandroutes2012 July 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm Reply

    Thanks for this, Jim. 17,000,000 visitors a year to the Lake District? I’m expecting to officiate at a funeral in Coniston on Saturday… and will visit the family tomorrow in preparation. SO… will I be:
    (a) No visitor (as I’m travelling for work, not as a tourist),
    (b) One visitor (as there’s only one of me), or
    (c) two visitors (entering the honeypot on two different dates)
    I’m just the tiniest drop in the ocean, but multiply examples of people like me up many, many times and it makes a serious difference to whether 17,000,000 looks like merely a very large number or a totally disproportionate and overwhelming one.

  4. rootsandroutes2012 July 18, 2017 at 2:34 pm Reply

    Just commenting again to sign up for notifications of future correspondence.

    • jwebster2 July 18, 2017 at 4:55 pm Reply

      I think from their position it doesn’t really matter. Each time you come in you drive on the roads, might use the public toilets, might use a car park etc. From their point you’ve clocked up 2/17,000,000ths of tourist use 🙂

      • rootsandroutes2012 July 19, 2017 at 4:32 am

        …in which case it’s not about anything like 17,000,000 tourists. In the old days when I was minister of Broughton Methodist Church I may never have had time to look at a lake, but I was in and out of the National Park all the time, whittling away at those 17m. Others will do this *much* more.

      • jwebster2 July 19, 2017 at 5:24 am

        I’ve been wondering about this, and it really depends on how they count tourists and visitor trips. Effectively yours were business trips, just as when I have to go through the Park to get to meetings or see somebody about buying calves. It could well be that these aren’t counted at all.
        Actually I cannot see how they can count all the trips the rest of Cumbria made into the Park as a result of their work. After all, every Barrovian going along the A590 visits the National Park between Greenodd and Levens whilst the population of West Cumbria spend time in the Park as they head along the A66 to Keswick.
        If they counted these, there probably aren’t any tourists 🙂

      • rootsandroutes2012 July 19, 2017 at 5:26 am

        That’s good – I should have an easy journey to Coniston this morning 😉

    • jwebster2 July 18, 2017 at 4:56 pm Reply

      you never know what trouble that will get you into 🙂

  5. Jheri Bryant August 6, 2017 at 11:20 am Reply

    Sheep farmers fetishised by national media (from the George Monbiot rant) it conjures pictures of flogging and foot kissing. Do you have experience of this?

    • jwebster2 August 6, 2017 at 1:10 pm Reply

      It must be confessed that it all sounds far more interesting and exciting that the reality that surrounds us 🙂

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