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Written by George Fisher


The Lake District’s quest is officially over – the long-awaited confirmation from UNESCO of World Heritage Site status was made in August.

A World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance. The official term is World Heritage Inscription and means the Lake District appears on the list of World Heritage Sites alongside the Grand Canyon, the Tower of London and the Taj Mahal.

The bid demonstrated how the landscape of the Lake District has been shaped by farming and local industry for thousands of years, which in turn inspired the Romantic poets and subsequent global conservation movement, including the start of the National Trust.

Lord Clark of Windermere, who chaired the Lake District's bid, said the decision to recognise its culture, art and literature, as well as its landscape, was "momentous". He said:

"It is this exceptional blend which makes our Lake District so spectacularly unique and we are delighted Unesco has agreed.”

John Glen, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said:

"The Lake District is one of the UK's most stunning and ancient landscapes and I am thrilled it has been granted World Heritage Site status. "It is a unique part of the world that combines a vibrant farming community with thousands of archaeological sites and structures that give us an amazing glimpse into our past. This decision will undoubtedly elevate the position of the Lake District internationally, boosting tourism and benefiting local communities and businesses."

The Lakes, visited by 18 million people every year, was one of 33 sites around the world to be considered by the Unesco committee, and was praised for its beauty, farming and the inspiration it has provided to artists and writers.

However, the award was not without controversy. George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian said,

“Everything that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision: the cowardice, the grovelling, the blandishments, the falsehoods. The way conservation groups rolled over is shameful, but also familiar. They did nothing to prevent the Lake District, England’s largest and most spectacular national park, from being officially designated a Beatrix Potter-themed sheep museum.”

His view is that World Heritage Site status will be used to block efforts to reduce grazing pressure, protect the soil and bring back trees.

Acknowledging alternative views, the UNESCO committee suggested the impact of tourism be monitored and requested improvements in conservation efforts.