The news that the Lake District has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site brings opportunities and challenges - our Cumbria Area Manager, Bill Kenmir reflects on the future of the world-famous Lake District and the wildlife that it could support

The Lake District is an icon of the English landscape; the fells and lakes, farms and wildlife are woven into our cultural memory more than perhaps any other place in the country. The inspiration it has given to poets and authors, walkers and climbers, farmers and pioneering conservationists has, rightly, brought the Lake District to the heart of a bid for World Heritage Site status.

And this is why RSPB, as a member of the Lake District National Park Partnership, helped to develop and support the Lake District Management Plan that will incorporate the World Heritage Site into the wider ambitions for the National Park. This Plan sets out a collective ambition to protect and enhance both the Cultural and Natural Landscape. A properly implemented plan that incorporates a healthy natural landscape with World Heritage Status for the Lakes could boost the economy of the area and enhance the reputation of a world-renowned landscape.

But there are real risks raised by World Heritage Site Status if, as a consequence, it becomes harder to tackle the challenges we face in the Lake District. It could be used by some to resist all change to the landscape, which would impact on everyone’s ability to tackle wildlife loss, poor water quality, the impact of climate change including increased flooding, and the uncertainties posed to hill farming systems from Brexit. We are particularly concerned that part of the bid specifically calls for a rebalancing of farm support payments away from supporting the natural landscape in favour of the cultural landscape. This is a false choice and if this approach is adopted it will be bad news for nature and for the future of farming in the Lake District.

It's important, now that we all come together to make certain that a World Heritage Status based on the cultural aspects of the Lake District does not, perversely, create such false choices between farming and conservation that drive wedges between natural allies.

We believe that the cultural and natural landscape can and should co-exist in harmony. At Swindale and Naddle farms at Haweswater we are demonstrating this by delivering natural public benefits alongside the sheep farming operation.  

Parts of the Lake District are blooming now - here alpine plants on Harter Fell - the opportunity to restore wildlife in the Lakes must not be lost as the post Brexit future of our hills is planned. Photo credit Lee Schofield

In addition, we're also concerned the successful bid doesn’t take into account that the funding system that supports the cultural landscape of the Lake District will effectively vanish after we leave the European Union.

As there is a good chance that any future agricultural-funding system will put a greater emphasis on the provision of public benefits, farmers will need to adapt their businesses to survive.

However, if the World Heritage Site status is interpreted narrowly, this will inhibit the Lake District’s ability to deliver change. Under this scenario, this accolade could actually increase the risk to the cultural landscape.

With Brexit throwing the future of hill farming into uncertainty, it is vital that there is flexibility to adapt and change.

Over the coming months UK Government must finalise its approach around how the World Heritage Site status will affect the landscape now and in the future. This approach must take account of the need for change, be aligned with future agricultural policy and support the environmental improvements that are necessary if the Lake District is to achieve its full potential including the provision of delivering public benefits such as wildlife, flood prevention, climate change adaptation and water quality.