Lake District’s Bid For World Heritage Status

The Lake District is a broad and verdant expanse of northern England in the neck of the British mainland, just below the head of Scotland and clinging to the eastern shore of the Irish Sea. At 885 square miles it is the largest of England’s National Parks and the subject of much recent attention from the park industry, because it is bidding to become the country’s latest World Heritage site.

Though England possesses more famous heritage sites than the Lake District–Stonehenge and the Tower of London are established locations–there is no doubt the Lake District has a similar degree of historic and aesthetic value as its more renowned cousins. Human settlement began there at the end of the last Ice Age (c.12,000 B.C.) and through the centuries its inhabitants have bequeathed a rich legacy of artefacts that include prehistoric encampments, Roman forts and medieval abbeys.

The natural beauty of the Lake District inspired local writers like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter to greatness, and it helped to inspire the genesis of Britain’s conservation movement. If mythology is more your thing, by learned reckoning, the Lake District and its surrounding Cumbrian landscape is the most likely resting place of King Arthur, Excalibur and Camelot.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

So with all these advantages, is the Lake District’s bid for World Heritage status a sure thing? Cumbria County Council, the local government body with jurisdiction over the area, believes so. The Council’s Web site states confidently that it is “highly likely that the Lake District would be successful” in a heritage application. However, qualification is by no means certain and one attempt has already failed.

The first bid for World Heritage status, made in 1985, foundered because the Lake District failed a test of “natural integrity.” Little information is available to define “natural integrity” and how the Lake District failed to offer it, but one can only assume the area’s mix of natural and built environment did not happily sit within categories defined at that time for World Heritage qualification.

A change to the categorisation of World Heritage sites has boosted the Council’s hope of success a second time around. A new category named Cultural Landscape has been created specifically for environments such as the Lake District. The Council defines this category as aiming to “identify and sustain the diverse landscape results of the interaction between people and their environment,” a definition that provides the Lake District with a more suitable basis on which to make an application.

Improvements in organisation also indicate a greater chance of success for the second bid. The Council’s controlling interest provides the bid with a governing body that holds broader powers than the smaller-fry Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA). The LDNPA headed the first attempt, but it is now content with coordinating a loose partnership of organisations that have special interests in the bid. The arrangement seems amicable, and all parties hope the pyramidal structure is the winning ticket this time.

Financing A World Heritage Bid

The cost of bidding for World Heritage status is surprisingly manageable. Cumbria County Council estimates $1 million for completing a successful bid, around two thirds of which will be paid for by the Council–and in turn, by the tax payer–and the remainder by partnership organisations. Of the Council’s expenditure, roughly two thirds will be spent on project management and the remaining third on outside consultants.

Though the outlay is manageable, it is still $1million that the Council may have spent elsewhere. So is an application for World Heritage status worth the money? According to County Archaeologist Richard Newman, the Council’s heritage expert, the answer is “yes.”

Mr. Newman expects World Heritage status to benefit the area’s economy in two ways: first, it will strengthen the Lake District’s case when it bids for limited government resources, and second, it will raise the area’s profile on the world stage, which in turn should lead to an increase in tourism from abroad. Mr. Newman stresses that World Heritage status is no gravy train to revenue improvement, but in times when competition for environmental funding grows ever fiercer, it can only help.

Protection Or Pickling?

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