Frequently asked questions on the English Lake District World Heritage Site including who are UNESCO, what is a World Heritage Site, and why the Lake District is a now a Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site.
1. An introduction to UNESCO and World Heritage Sites
i. Who is UNESCO?
UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The organisation was created more than a half century ago, with the mission to build the defences of peace in the minds of men. Its main objective is to contribute to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication, in order to further universal respect for justice and the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion. UNESCO’s aim is to “contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”.
ii. What is a World Heritage Site and what is their purpose?
UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
These World Heritage Sites are places that are inscribed by UNESCO because they are of outstanding global special cultural or physical significance. The official term is World Heritage Inscription and means the English Lake District appears on the World Heritage List. UNESCO says “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage Sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located”.
iii. What types of World Heritage Sites are there?
Natural – as of July 2017, there are 206 natural sites worldwide; like the Great Barrier Reef, the Central Amazon Basin, the Great Smokey Mountains, and in the UK, the Jurassic Coast
Cultural – there are 832 cultural WHSs worldwide including icons such as the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge & Avebury and Hadrian’s Wall (as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire). Cumbria is fortunate to be home to two WHSs and Ravenglass on the west Cumbrian coast unusually sits in both Frontiers of the Roman Empire and the English Lake District
Mixed – these WHSs have both natural and cultural heritage, and examples include the Tasmanian Wilderness, Machu Picchu and Mont Perdu. The UK’s only mixed WHS is St. Kilda, one of Europe’s largest seabird sanctuaries and having had over 4,000 years of human occupation. There are currently only 35 mixed WHSs
Cultural Landscapes – the newest category of WHSs, cultural landscapes represent the combined works of nature and humanity. They demonstrate the evolution of people and settlement over time, under the influence of their physical and natural environment. This is the category the English Lake District is inscribed under. Out of the 832 cultural WHSs, 85 are cultural landscapes
iv. How are World Heritage Sites chosen?
To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and meet at least one of ten selection criteria as defined by UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines. Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to “transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”. Simply put these places are so globally special and unique that they are worthy of protecting and celebrating.
2. An introduction to the English Lake District World Heritage Site
i. What is the English Lake District World Heritage Site?
It is the Lake District National Park as defined by the 1951 boundary. It is the UK’s 31st WHS and its largest. It covers 221,000 ha, has a population of 41,000 and 23,000 homes. It has 42,026 ha of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), 14,000 ha in County Wildlife Sites, 8,000 ha in Regionally Important Geological Sites, over 10,000 ha of ancient semi-natural woodland, 16,500 archaeological sites including 333 scheduled monuments, 2,200km of footpaths and 121,000 ha of open access land.
ii. Why is the Lake District a World Heritage Site?
There are three intertwining and interdependent themes that reflect UNESCO’s criteria for inscription and attributes of OUV. They are:
Identity – a landscape of exceptional beauty, shaped by persistent and distinctive agro-pastoral traditions and local industry which give the Lake District a special character
Inspiration – a landscape which has inspired artistic and literary movements and generated ideas about landscapes that have had global influence and left their physical mark
Conservation – it is a landscape which has been the catalyst for key developments in the national and international protection of landscapes
The documentation submitted to UNESCO to support the Lake District’s bid for World Heritage Site status has a wealth of in-depth detail on each of the 13 valleys and what each valley’s OUVs are. Go to http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/caringfor/projects/whs/lake-district-nomination to dive deeper into the English Lake District’s World Heritage Site stories.
iii. What is the history of the Lakes’ WHS bid?
- The process to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site has taken over 30 years
- Bids in 1986 and 1989 were deferred by UNESCO because the Lake District did not easily fit into the categories of World Heritage sites that existed then (Mixed and Cultural respectively)
- In 1993 UNESCO introduced Cultural Landscape as a World Heritage Site category. This was in direct response to the Lake District’s previous nominations
- The most recent bid began in 2001 following the foot and mouth disease outbreak in Cumbria, as an opportunity to provide a boost for economic growth and social uplift to the Lakes, the county and the region. It was further reaffirmed following the 2008 recession as a potential catalyst to meet the growth, social and environmental needs of today. There was a long process to develop consensus on the bid
- Since 2005/6 the Lake District National Park Partnership has managed the bid. In the 1980s one of the principal questions raised by UNESCO was about Cumbria's ability to deliver a World Heritage Site Management Plan. This was remedied through the establishment of the Lake District National Park Partnership in 2006 - a unified approach to managing the Lake District and production of the Partnership's Plan
- In 2009 the Government reviewed its ‘tentative list’ of prospective UK World Heritage nominations and retained the Lake District on this bid. The Partnership was then tasked with undergoing a UK Government technical assessment in 2014 and 2015
- In 2016 the Lake District became the UK’s official nomination
- The English Lake District was inscribed at the 41st UNESCO World Heritage Committee Convention at Krakow, on Sunday 9th July 2017
3. Identity - a quick introduction
The Lake District’s unique farming heritage has helped create this special place over thousands of years. It plays a key role in the World Heritage story and is recognised in the management plan. Traditional Lakeland upland farming is unrivalled in northern Europe. This industry and way of life adapted to the mountainous settings of the Lakes through the development of distinct farming structures, such as enclosed valley bottom fields (in-byes), enclosed fell side fields (intakes) and fell top open grazing (common lands). Many valleys still have remnants of traditional field structures dating back to medieval times visible today.
As well as field structures, the Lakes have distinctive and unique farmhouses. Many early buildings were adapted to become farms; hunting box and deer parks became farms and fields for stock grazing; defensive Pele towers were extended and enlarged. Other farm buildings are similarly unique and characteristic – two-storey barns, stone field barns and hog houses for example. Many buildings have distinctive features. Outside might be found round chimneys, date stones above doors and rooftop crow steps; inside one might find spice cupboards and salt niches. Beyond the farmyards, typical Lakeland vernacular structures include packhorse bridges, water smoots, bee boles and shard fences.
Lakeland upland farming has its own traditions too. The rearing of native sheep and cattle breeds, including the iconic grey Herdwicks; the practise of hefted grazing and collective management of common lands; the marking of animals to identify their owners (such as smit marks); communal gatherings and sports events; and traditional skills like drystone walling, hedge laying and sheep shearing.
How will World Heritage Site status address overgrazing on some of the Lake District's upland fells?
The Partnership recognises that there have been overgrazing and other farm management practices that have threatened the environmental and natural values of the landscape. Much has been done by farmers, land managers and conservation groups to begin the process of habitat restoration and this remains a priority for the management of the Lake District. The Partnership’s management plan includes strategies for ensuring this balance is achieved and that World Heritage status is a positive driver for both the natural and cultural landscape.
It may surprise modern visitors that the Lake District was a hive of industry beyond agriculture in the not-so-distant past. The reason for this was the ready availability in the Lake District of the raw materials required for industrial production – rocks and minerals, water power from numerous becks and rivers, and charcoal and other wood products from extensive woodlands.
Copper, lead and graphite, in areas such as Coniston and Seathwaite, were among the earliest minerals to be exploited from the medieval period and particularly from the 16th century. The copper mines opened by the Mines Royal Company in the Caldbeck Fells are especially significant as the first well-documented large-scale copper mining operation in the UK. Ullswater’s Greenside mine was one of the largest lead mines in England in the 19th and early 20th centuries and in 1890 was the first metal ore mine to use electric power for transport (hydroelectric power). Graphite was originally mined to make moulds for the manufacture of cannon balls and then, most famously, to provide pencil ‘lead’ in the 18th and 19th centuries. Iron ore, both in the Lake District and from Low Furness to the south, was used from the medieval period to smelt iron. From around the 16th century smelting technology advanced with the introduction of water power and from 1711 a number of blast furnaces were built in the southern Lake District. One of these, at Backbarrow, operated until the 1960s.
In addition to the availability of local iron ore, the production of charcoal from the Lake District woodlands was crucial for the development of the iron industry. The introduction of coppice management, probably from the early 17th century, ensured a sustainable source of fuel and the extensive woods of the southern Lake District, which have survived due to their use for coppicing. These woods have been described as the largest industrial archaeology site in England. In addition to charcoal production, bark from oak trees was used in small local tanneries to produce leather prior to modern chemical methods of tanning.
Slate quarrying is the only extractive industry which now survives but is much smaller in scale than in the past. There are working slate quarries at Honister, Elterwater, Brandy Crag and Bursting Stone on Coniston Old Man.
In the medieval period and up to the early 20th century, the rivers and becks were lined with great numbers of water mills which supported a number of industries. In the medieval period, in addition to corn mills, the Lake District had many fulling mills which processed wool to produce the cloth that the area was famous for. In the 19th century, mills were established to produce wooden bobbins for the Lancashire cotton industry, of which Stott Park near Lakeside on Windermere is the best surviving example.
4. Inspiration - a quick introduction
The second attribute of OUV recognises how its landscapes have shaped people, inspiring artists, writers and thinkers to reimagine how people saw landscapes and their reaction to them.
Back in the early 18th century, modern life had just begun; industrialisation, urbanisation, the rise of the middle classes, scientific progress and a growing differentiation between rural and urban. At this time the Lake District was looked upon unfavourably. However a number of circumstances were about to change that point of view.
War and revolution in Europe meant travelling on the Grand Tour was unsafe. Gentlemen and gentlewomen seeking self-development through the continent’s natural and cultural treasures were forced to look elsewhere, in particular the north. And so the first visitors started to arrive in the Lake District. But when they got here, they couldn’t articulate what they were seeing; their understanding of landscapes was pastoral, and derived from the European school of art. It just didn’t work for jagged Lake District landscapes. A new way of describing and appreciating scenic beauty was needed, moving away from soft and gentle, to rough and rugged. This was the start of the Picturesque Movement.
Resourceful Cumbrians provided the growing numbers of visitors ways of experiencing the Picturesque. Guidebooks and viewing stations provided suggestions of locations where to go to get the best views. The locations of many of the viewing stations still provide breath-taking vistas. As more and more artists and writers discovered the Lakes, their works were reproduced and widely distributed, contributing to the ever growing popularity of the Lake District. And so tourism started.
Evolving from the Picturesque came Romanticism, an emotional response to seeing and being in Lake District landscapes. Wordsworth saw landscapes as a source of self-discovery and a refuge from modern life, thinking that still rings true within the Lakes’ visitors today. And with this emotional connection came a valuing of these landscapes.
As the Lakes became increasingly popular, the new wealthy moved in. They started to acquire land, but not to commercially develop, rather to enhance it aesthetically. A wave of villa building commenced that last nearly 200 years, many of which can still be seen today, perhaps even stayed in. Many surrounding grounds and estates were designed to improve their scenic qualities, such as Tarn Hows and Aira Force.
5. Conservation - a quick introduction
The final attribute of OUV is the recognition of the Lake District’s role in the birth of the global conservation movement. As the Romantic Movement promoted emotional connections to the landscapes, they became valued by the general public, were deemed worthy of protection, and seen as ‘national property’. When the prospect of industrial development loomed, potentially to the detriment of the land, a ground swell of thinking, discussion and actions arose. The Lake District became the host to an on-going debate around land use for commercial gain versus public good.
Over the past 250 years, there have been key moments and flashpoints in the Lake District that have cemented its role as the birthplace of conservation.
• In 1749 the felling of an oak planation on Crow Park near Keswick sparked initial debate on land use and a regret for the loss of the trees
• In 1781 Lord William Gordon buys estates on the western shores of Derwent Water in order to protect them
• John Marshall and his family buy property in Loweswater, Buttermere and Crummock in 1815, for the sake of conservation
• In 1832, one of the founders of the US National Parks initiative Ralph Emerson Waldo meets Wordsworth and Coleridge and is inspired by their early conservation thinking
• Yellowstone becomes the first National Park in 1872, protecting landscapes through legislation; the Lake District becomes a National Park 79 years later
• John Ruskin supports local opposition in 1876, in successfully thwarting plans to extend the railway from Windermere to Ambleside
• The reservoir build at Thirlmere goes ahead against strong opposition, but provides wide exposure of and support for protection of landscapes (1880 – 1894)
• In 1883, Canon Rawnsley leads opposition to Ennerdale, Buttermere and Braithwaite proposed railway developments and forms the Lake District Defence Society, which evolves into Friends of the Lake District
• 1893, Canon Rawnsley concerned at the sale of many Lakes’ beauty spots, potentially for development, is driven to establish ‘some sort of association, or trust that should exist solely in the interests of the public for the purpose of holding lands in their natural beauty in perpetuity for the people’
• 1895 the National Trust is established by Rawnsley with Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter
• 1911 -12, Canon Rawnsley and Beatrix Potter successfully oppose the building of a seaplane factory at Cockshott Point, Windermere
• In 1936 the Forestry Commission agrees to no planting of conifers in the ‘core’ Lake District after objections to plans to plant in the Duddon valley
Many more moments of conservation occurred in the Lakes, from raising monies from public subscriptions to purchase land for protection, to philanthropic donations and bequests to the National Trust on behalf of the nation. This model of conservation has now been adopted in over 50 countries, with the Lake District at the heart of this global movement.
The work to look after the Lakes continues and as a World Heritage Site and a National Park, there is greater responsibility to ensure that any development does not negativity impact to both the landscape and OUV. Here are a handful of examples of conservation work still going on:
- Breeding ospreys are back in the Lake District. Since the Lake District Osprey Project began in 2001, ospreys have nested successfully at Bassenthwaite every year, raising nearly 30 chicks, while over 1.5 million people have visited the project
- Over 2,000 ha of peatland have been restored by Partnership members Cumbria Wildlife Trust and United Utilities, since 2011, saving 11,141 tonnes of carbon each year. The largest site so far has seen 100 ha of blanket bog and basin mire, drained in the 1960s, restored at Forest Bottom between Longsleddale and Kentmere
- 1,206 ha of woodland have been created since 1994 and, from 2005 onwards, Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment schemes have created an additional 1,868 ha of scrubland. Of the 29,6093 ha of woodland in the Park, 22,079 ha (74%) is actively managed under a woodland management scheme
- In 2015/16 £11,347,692 of subsidies supported 142,696 ha of agri-environment schemes in the National Park (62% of the Park is managed for environmental outcomes)
6. How is the World Heritage Site being managed
Who is managing the World Heritage Site?
The Lake District National Park Partnership was behind the Lake District's bid. The Partnership comprises 25 organisations. More details of the Partnership can be found here.
What governance is in place?
The World Heritage Site is managed through the Lake District National Park Partnership. A WHS Steering Group reports directly to the Partnership and is supported by a number of working groups. The Partnership’s management plan for the Lake District as a World Heritage Site is also the statutory plan for managing the National Park. The Partnership wants World Heritage status to be a positive force to support new investment in the Lake District’s cultural and natural environment, its communities and economies. They hope people will enjoy experiencing the Lake District as a World Heritage Site. Businesses and organisations across the county are ready to use the World Heritage brand and stories to reach new customers and visitors will be able to understand more about this special place
What are the potential benefits?
With a global accolade comes global awareness. It is expected that this will mean a slow growth in international tourists, for whom World Heritage Site status is a guide to destinations worth visiting and a badge of quality of the experience. It is hoped that this would represent sustainable growth, but it will need careful monitoring. World Heritage Site status does not come with a cheque. However it is proven that it does provide the opportunity to lever new funds. Research by UNESCO in recent years with a number of UK WHSs, showed that significant addition revenues from tourism and other sources were achieved, solely due to WHS status. Many businesses have already identified WHS status as an opportunity to attract new customers and provide competitive advantage. WHS OUVs are potentially new stories to attract repeat domestic visits and deepen emotional connections to the Lakes, building the lifetime value of many domestic visitors.
What are the possible and perceived challenges?
Over the years, the Partnership has spent considerable time ensuring there is a robust case for the Lake District to become a World Heritage Site. The management plan recognises there are challenges in managing a site of this diversity and size, but the Partnership itself has the strategies in place to manage this change and embrace the opportunities that World Heritage brings. Partners have been working together to manage the National Park for more than 10 years now.
Does World Heritage Site status mean the Lake District will be preserved the way it looks today?
Claims that World Heritage status will somehow preserve the landscape in time are not true. The living, working cultural landscape of the Lake District means change is both inevitable and essential. The Lake District has evolved for centuries and it will continue to do so. The management plan is focused on ensuring that change is managed in such a way that it will not harm the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value or our special qualities so that World Heritage status becomes a driver for positive change. UNESCO agrees with this approach. However change needs to be balanced and not threaten the reasons (OUV) why the Lake District is now a World Heritage Site. Significant new developments will need to assessed on their potential benefits and their possible impacts and balanced decisions made.
Will it bring more tourists and over-crowding?
Being ranked alongside the Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal is likely to make a wider audience aware of the Lake District's cultural landscape. But attracting additional visitors through World Heritage status is not a specific aim. It is more likely that World Heritage inscription will be useful in attracting higher spending, longer staying national and international tourists who respect the landscape and what to explore more.
Will World Heritage Status cause even more traffic in the Lake District?
World Heritage Status is not about increasing visitor numbers; the Partnership wants to encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more.
Does having WHS status this mean house prices will go up?
No. The fact that the Lake District is already a National Park has caused house prices to be above national average. Looking at other World Heritages Sites in England suggests that this will not cause house prices to increase. The Partnership’s housing policies set out how they will ensure there are enough affordable housing opportunities within the Lake District National Park. Current targets are being exceeded and as part of a review of the local plan, communities and land owners have been invited to propose new sites that may be suitable for local needs and affordable housing.
Will World Heritage mean more planning restrictions?
UK National Parks already have the highest level of protection in planning law. LDNPA will be assessing applications against the current set of policies after designation. They will need to develop their assessment of planning applications to ensure they have additional information to help them look after the National Park as a World Heritage Site.
Additional national controls are confined to domestic developments of:
• Solar PV or solar thermal equipment (solar panels)
• Stand-alone solar systems
• The flue of biomass heating systems
• The flue of combined heat and power systems.
Find out more on the planning pages of Lake District National Park Authority's website.
What impact will Brexit have on the Lake District as a World Heritage Site?
Although the bid was submitted pre-Brexit, the Partnership has subsequently provided information to the UNESCO assessors both verbally and in writing and as part of their visit to the Lake District. As part of any changes that come into effect the Partnership will need to consider the potential implications about the ease of travel and the need for visas and travel reforms to sustain the international travel market.
The future of agricultural subsidies is referenced within the management plan, although it’s acknowledged that there is currently some uncertainty around how this will change once the UK leaves the European Union. The Partnership is committed to providing benefits to society that include clean water, healthy soils, high quality food, flood protection and access. Together this provides the best case for securing ongoing support and funding for the Lake District. The Partnership believe that World Heritage Site status will help partner organisations play a part in securing new funding post Brexit for practical improvements for the future of positive change and to deliver more benefits for both the Lakes’ nature and cultural heritage.