Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) might not be regularly in our thoughts, but this week it has done a great service in designating the Lake District as a ‘world heritage site’.
In doing so it has reminded the world that this extraordinary Cumbrian landscape has been created by man on a canvas provided by nature. As the UNESCO citation puts it: “The English Lake District is a mountainous area, whose valleys have been modelled by glaciers in the Ice Age and subsequently shaped by an agro-pastoral land-use system characterised by fields enclosed by walls. The combined work of nature and human activity has produced a harmonious landscape in which the mountains are mirrored in the lakes”.
Nor could the timing of such a reminder be more relevant as we negotiate Brexit and tackle the creation of a policy for the British countryside separate from the Common Agricultural Policy. It is vital that this new policy rewards continued management and conservation of landscapes such as the Lake District and sustains the communities that are an intrinsic part of it. In a global market food production can only ever contribute a part of the income necessary to sustain communities in a marginal farming area like the Lake District. In order to maintain the landscape, therefore, there have to be other ways of rewarding the obvious ‘public goods’ generated by such farming systems. You do not buy a ticket to the Lake District and there are no turnstiles at the boundaries of the National Park, but it cannot be unreasonable to support through government subsidy the communities who live there and manage the landscape which so many millions of us visit and enjoy.
Whilst the Lake District has understandably been singled out by UNESCO it is just one of many such areas of rural Britain. From Cornwall to Northumberland extraordinary landscapes have been created and maintained by generations of farmers. The creation of a new British policy for farming and the countryside provides an opportunity to provide a long term vision for the countryside which sustains communities, conserves landscapes and improves habitats. There are, and will be, siren voices arguing for fundamental landscape scale change especially in the uplands. The British public has, however, consistently voted with its feet as it admires and walks our fells and mountains. The way forward must be to support the communities that conserve those much loved landscapes and create a policy which allows them to do that even better.
Follow Tim @CA_TimB