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UNESCO, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has declared the Lake District National Park a cultural World Heritage Site (WHS), according to criteria (ii)(v)(vi), which are:

(ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

(v) to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

and

(vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);

Clearly, it is the cultural value of the Lake District that is protected, not the natural one. Some are highly critical of this decision; for example, see this opinion post.

Does this decision mean that attempts of reforestation and broader ways of rewilding of the Lake District must cease, considering that it is protected in its current (i.e. heavily eroded and some would say “sheepwrecked”) form? Proponents of rewilding may hope the Lake District may one day look more like the Adirondacks (including top predators) than like the Lake District from English painters, but that sounds incompatible with the kind of protection UNESCO has declared.

  • This is a fascinating question gerrit! I've been following some legislation here in the United States regarding protection of nature and the political implications. I never heard of UNESCO before, but a quick look at its history actually shows the US as part of the original group of this far-reaching organization. I will definitely be looking forward to the answers you get. – Sue Jul 9 '17 at 21:20
  • Related because you are going there: "Forestry in a Treeless Land" by the Icelandic Forest Service: "At the time of human settlement almost 1150 years ago, birch forest and woodland covered 25-40% of Iceland's land area." – ab2 Jul 9 '17 at 21:43
  • @ab2 Thanks… I'm aware, and there's a couple of questions from me on this site about sheepless areas in Scotland and Iceland respectively. – gerrit Jul 10 '17 at 10:10
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Yes, the UNESCO WHS classification would be an obstacle to Monbiot's rewilding proposals, as it focuses on the preservation of a farmed landscape. But that begs the question of whether radical rewilding, as envisioned by Monbiot, would be the right way to go.

No-one is going to deny that there is plenty of bad land management in the UK, particularly on some of the large shooting estates. And there is plenty of room for introducing better practice. But the experienced country folk with whom I have discussed this regard Monbiot's radical rewilding proposal as seriously misconceived.

First, we need a reality check. It's now understood that many areas of land, such as the Amazonian rainforest and Yellowstone that were once thought to be "wild" were in fact carefully managed by the indigenous population. With the exception of a small corner of Poland, there is virtually no land in the whole of Europe that could truly be designated as wild - it is all managed to a greater or lesser degree. These are created landscapes - so exactly what point in their evolution are we supposed to revert to?

I don't know the detail of his Lake District proposals, but here in Dartmoor his proposals for the area have been met with derision by local conservationists.

For example he talks of the reintroduction of large predators in an area of just 365 square miles that couldn't possibly maintain a population in any natural way - the range would be orders of magnitude too small.

He proposes the abandonment of a farming system going back to the bronze age, in a way that would destroy the economy of many local communities. No-one believes that farming could be replaced by eco-tourism as he proposes, particularly as a return to gorse and scrub would destroy the amenity of the moor. Without managed grazing most of the moor would become impassible, the views would be lost and the unmatched bronze-age remains would be buried in scrub and destroyed. Also, a recent study on rewilding Dartmoor concluded that in all likelihood wild fires would sweep uncontrolled through the moor in times of drought.

Source: Landscapes without Livestock

I've followed the rewilding debate for some time, and it's striking that most of the proponents are idealistic urban greens, while most of the critics are the pragmatic people who actually work and manage the land. And Monbiot does himself few favours with his insulting implication that he is the only voice with the true interests of the countryside at heart - I know some of these farmers and conservationists and they love the land with a passion.

Monbiot has sparked a useful debate, but his proposals are unworkable and won't be implemented. What is actually needed is the careful and incremental introduction of better management practice to enrich the ecology of our National Parks while preserving their rich heritage of landscape and culture. And I can't see how the new UNESCO classification should hold this back in any way.

  • Most of this post, while interesting, is rather an extended commentary on Monbiot and his views than a direct answer to the question (which is limited to the first paragraph). Monbiots views may be considered as extreme, there are certainly local areas where nature management has helped/accelerated restoration of native woodlands, such as on Rùm or the Carrifran Wildwood. Ecological restoration is very much possible in cooperation with local farmers. – gerrit Jul 10 '17 at 22:56
  • @gerrit - well, you link to Monbiot, then use the word rewilding, which is widely associated with his views. I think we can agree that appropriate ecological restoration is possible and desirable, and that farmers have a positive role to play. I can't see that the UNESCO classification could have any negative impact on that - it's not as though they're committed to retaining poor practice. It's only the abandonment of thousands of years of agricultural practice and the radical destruction of the cultivated landscape as proposed in your linked article that would be precluded, – Tullochgorum Jul 11 '17 at 0:18
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I tweeted a link to this question and a series of tweets from Heritage Futures said:

A big question and the answer is it remains to be seen. There are no current plans to extend rewilding in the Lake District beyond the @wildennerdale which is an ongoing project. The cultural landscape designation recognises the ongoing use and evolution of landscape but it also recognises the outstanding universal value of the landscape created by fell shepherding and management should sustain that. Designation [is] a sign of support for current management models for the area and changes, such as large scale rewilding would be scrutinized at international level. But WHS designations not the end of the story change & conflict continue at many sites (Stonehenge, Liverpool). All our partners in the Lake District welcome the news as a new chapter in an old story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=st0kwBsedeE … Just writing a blog now.

Heritage Futures is a research project about how people imagine and care about the future of heritage, the heritage of the future, what now-things will be seen as "heritage" later, whether any place or thing should be frozen in time at all and if so at what point, and so on. The Lake District is an area of special interest for them. You may find their Twitter feed and web site interesting.

The blog post is now live. It notes that some people object to the designation because they feel it will prevent any changes, and says such people are wrong (not to object, but to feel changes will be prevented.)

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