In 1796 the poet Thomas Gray extolled the ‘little unsuspected paradise of Grasmere’. Two centuries later the area faces threats which Gray could not have predicted.
For the Lake District National Park seems to be under unprecedented attack. In the last few weeks four new threats have emerged: the well-publicised land sales by the national park authority, United Utilities’ application to erect a fence across common land above Thirlmere, the renewal of the Kirkby Moor wind turbines on the southern edge of the park, and a revived planning application from the Lowther Estate to suburbanise White Moss at Grasmere. The Open Spaces Society and the Friends of the Lake District are objecting to them all.
The Lake District NPA has put seven sites on the market, including Baneriggs and Lady Woods at Grasmere, Stickle Tarn above Langdale, and Yewbarrow Woods, Longsleddale. Not only is it wrong in principle to sell off sites which are of national value, it is also wrong in practice. For the park authority will lose control of what happens here. A new owner might be driven by commercial rather than national park values, and applications for development can always be granted on appeal. Land such as this should be held by the nation for the nation.
The properties are being sold through Michael C L Hodgson, and bidding closes on 12 March.
Worryingly, the national park authority has not objected to United Utilities’ proposed fence, six miles long across the Thirlmere Commons, for which UU seeks consent under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006. UU states that its intention is to reduce stock grazing to prevent erosion of vegetation which is then washed into the watercourses, but there is not much evidence to prove that this will work. The fence would march across wild land, destroying the splendour and freedom of this magnificent area.
In any case, the fence is contrary to the Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act 1879, clause 62, which was won by the Commons Preservation Society (as the Open Spaces Society was then known). This gives the public a right of free access to these fells which ‘shall not be in any manner restricted or interfered with’. Both UU and the park authority seem to think that the act will not be breached if gates and stiles are provided, but of course the fence will interfere with access. So even if UU gets it consent under the Commons Act there is a big question as to whether it can lawfully erect the fence.
The 12 Kirkby Moor wind turbines on common land near Ulverston should be taken down in 2018 when their planning permission expires. Instead RWE Innogy intends to replace them with six much larger ones—more than twice the current height. They are highly visible over a vast area, in particular from the Lake District tops. I sincerely hope that the application is rejected and the turbines are removed, leaving this sweeping landscape free from encumbrances.
The Lowther landholding in the national park used to be sensitively and sympathetically managed, but a new Lord Lowther has inherited the estate and now things are changing. Last year the estate applied to develop White Moss Common, next to the A591 between Rydal Water and Grasmere. It sought planning permission for a visitor centre (euphemistically called a ‘welcome hub’) and so-called ‘hierarchy of routes’ around the car-park. It ignored the fact that this is common land with rights to walk and ride.
Fortunately the application was thrown out by the park authority’s members last autumn, against the advice of officers. Now the estate has resubmitted the application, which is much the same except the size of the building has been reduced.
And while all this goes on, ironically the Lake District NPA and others are seeking World Heritage Site status for the park. These many threats could put this aspiration at risk.
Of course the Lake District, in common with other park authorities, is suffering massive cuts in its budget. It has lost £1.56 million, 23 per cent, in the last five years. The Campaign for National Parks is running a campaign against the cuts. Such cuts are indicative of a myopic government which fails to recognise that our protected landscapes give fantastic value for money.
A recent study by Cambridge University zoologists, published in PLOS Biology, shows that the money generated from tourism and recreation vastly outweighs the $10bn a year spent on safeguarding and managing the world’s national parks and nature reserves. It identifies the Lake District as one of the ten most frequently-visited sites (out of 556 for which the researchers had direct data).
So protected landscapes are an investment not a drain on the public purse, and it’s time that government understood this and resolved to give them more cash.