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Lake District ‘must change’ to attract more diverse visitors | UK News



The head of the Lake District National Park Authority in Cumbria says the rugged landscape excludes too many people and must change to attract a more diverse mix of visitors.

His warning comes after attempts to make the UNESCO World Heritage site more inclusive have sparked a series of rows with conservationists.

The authority is facing a High Court judicial review in the New Year over its refusal to ban 4×4 vehicles from some fell trails, while Keswick Town Council has passed a vote of no confidence in it over the creation of a tarmac path through woodland.

Richard Leafe said the national park must adapt in small ways

But Richard Leafe, the park authority’s long-standing chief executive, told Sky News that to ensure continued public funding the national park must adapt in small ways.

“We need to be able to sell the national park to everybody in Britain, all society, and it’s important that it doesn’t just become exclusive to one single use group,” he said.

“The moment we get into that position I think national parks start to lose their relevance and therefore the very reason for calling it a national park and spending public money.”

Research shows visitors to the Lake District, where the rugged fells inspired the romantic poets and author Beatrix Potter, are too heavily weighted towards older, able-bodied white people.

But conservationists have accused the park authority of launching an attack on the beauty and tranquillity of the area.

A crowdfunding effort to challenge the authority’s “refusal to stop 4x4s and motorbikes ruining one of the most beautiful places in England” has raised more than £30,000 and will go to the High Court in 2020.

Meanwhile an £8m project to create an accessible multi-user trail with a tarmac surface between Keswick and Thelkeld has been condemned by Keswick Town Council.

The scheme, which will be completed at the end of 2020, was designed to replace a traditional stone-surfaced path which was destroyed by Storm Desmond in 2015.

Research shows visitors to the Lake District are heavily weighted towards older, able-bodied white people

Paul Titley, a businessman who retired to the Lake District who is now Keswick’s deputy mayor, believes visitors have no right to paths that aren’t muddy and should accept the environment as it is or go elsewhere.

“We have a phenomenal selection of outdoor clothing shops here for a reason – come and buy them, come and put them on and get yourself out in the hills,” he said.

“If you get wet it won’t hurt you, if you get cold put something else on.”

A government-commissioned report into the future of Britain’s protected landscapes which was published in September 2019 criticised national parks for not doing enough to make people welcome.

Britain’s national parks have been criticised for not doing enough to make people welcome

The author, writer Julian Glover, described them as an “exclusive, mainly white, mainly middle‐class club, with rules only members understand and much too little done to encourage first time visitors”.

Mr Leafe told Sky News he sees the controversies in Cumbria as part of the debate about who national parks are for.

“We are deficient in terms of young people, we are deficient in terms of black and minority ethnic communities and we are not particularly well-visited by those who are less able in terms of their mobility,” he said.

“Our challenge is to see what we can do to reverse that, to encourage people from broader backgrounds and a wider range of personal mobilities into the national park to be able to benefit in the same way that those other groups do.”

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