Last Sunday, 9th July, it was announced that the Lake District had been awarded the prestigious status of being a Unesco World Heritage Site. This is the same status awarded to over 1000 sites across the world, including Yellowstone National Park in the USA, the Palace of Versailles in France, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The news was met with celebration across Cumbria and beyond – although some did raise fears of the possible impact on the natural landscape that any increase in tourism may have.

What is a World Heritage Site?

Stunning sunset in the Lake District

In the mid 1950’s, the construction of the Aswan High Damn in Egypt threatened various ancient Egyptian monuments. A campaign was launched by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to save the as many monuments as they could. The campaign was largely successful, and led to other similar campaigns around the world. In recognition of the need to safeguard not only historical sites, but also sites with significant natural beauty, and driven by the success of these previous campaigns, the United Nations adopted the “Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage” in the mid 1970s. Under the convention, sites of outstanding value, either culturally or naturally, can be awarded World Heritage Site status.

The sites are deemed to have special importance to people, and represent the very best of a country’s natural landscape or cultural heritage. The status means that international scrutiny is applied to the care of these sites, making it much harder for developers in the area, for example. The sites are also protected under the Geneva Convention during times of war, and destruction of these sites could constitute a war crime.

Recognition for the Lake District

Herdwick Sheep

Herdwick Sheep

Last Sunday, the Lake District became Britain’s 31st World Heritage Site. The award was the result of a long campaign by 25 organisations including the Lake District National Park Authority, county and borough councils, the National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Cumbria Tourism, and many other local organisations and businesses.

The award was granted not just on the basis of the area’s outstanding natural beauty, but also on the importance of farming in the area, in recognition of how the industry has moulded the landscape and the importance it has played in bringing tourists to the park. The inspiration that the area has provided to literary greats, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, was also noted.

Impact on the Lake District

Bowness-On-Windermere

Bowness-On-Windermere (neilld / bigstockphoto.com)

The status also won’t preserve the current landscape as a snapshot in time, as the award was given on the basis that this is a working landscape. Instead, any changes to the landscape will be carried out sensitively, ensuring that the area’s special status is preserved. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Lake District is already governed by strict planning laws, so the status shouldn’t have too much impact on development in the area.

Some critics argue that this will bring too many tourists to an area where infrastructure is already overwhelmed during peak periods. However, plans are in place to help the tourist industry push visitors to quieter parts of the national park, such as those in western and eastern fringes. It is also hoped that rather than bringing more tourists into the area, the status will encourage existing tourists to stay for longer instead with many international travellers currently only visiting for one or two days as part of a longer tour.

How Can I Join in the Celebration?

Views from Orrest Head

Views from Orrest Head

This weekend (15th and 16th July) at Brockhole – the Lake District National Park Authority’s visitor centre – there will be a celebratory picnic. You can book online to reserve your picnic with prices starting at just £6. The picnics are packed with delicious local goods, and there’s even an option to include some Prosecco. Alternatively, the authority invites everyone to take part in “Picnic in the Park” by visiting their favourite Lake District spot and having a picnic there. Furthermore, many National Trust sites within the park are offering free cupcakes for visitors this weekend.