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Preserving national treasures

Sir, The furore over speed limits on Windermere shows that very fundamental and deep-seated feelings are involved here.

Central to the problem is the question of what a national park is. It is here where positions seem to be in direct conflict.

On the one hand we have those people who feel a national park should reflect something of the nation's traditions, where an outstanding landscape should be protected against invasive elements, such as overhead power lines, rampaging commercial activity, large-scale industry (although traditional and cottage industries may be appropriate) and the preservation of traditional ways of life are maintained as far as possible.

This view arouses deep animosity among people of opposing views, who believe this is creating an open-air museum on the whims of a group of old fogies.

Such people would rather view the national park as akin to a theme park: lakes are places for thrills with speed boats, crags are natural climbing frames, winding valley roads are race tracks for cars, the old pack-horse routes between the dales are testing grounds for off-road vehicles and villages are the target of coaches seeking cream teas, or worse: a drinking binge.

While we may well drag in the idea of "democracy" to support this latter viewpoint, this argument has no basis in rationality as most of the activities promulgated by these people entail considerable impact not only on other people, but on the environment and usually are carried out by a minority of people, usually "offcomers".

I have two observations to make here. The first national parks were set up in the USA with a view to preserving areas of natural beauty or other interest (eg scientific) from commercial despoilation.

US national parks are run on a very tight rein. For example, the number of visitors at any one time is restricted. Various activities, deemed to be either environmentally damaging or having a negative impact on other park users (ie those visitors there to enjoy the attractions for which the park was set up) were banned.

The American national parks were so admired that they formed the prototype for national parks elsewhere and there was general agreement that the same general principles should apply even though in other countries the areas designated were very different from the pristine areas of the American West, such as Yellowstone.

In particular, cultural aspects were taken into account and in the case of Cumbria this would first and foremost be the fell farmer. This is my second point: the farmer has been emasculated, as have indeed most of the original inhabitants.

Fall in prices of products, farms taken over by weekenders and "wilderness experience" groups, development, which largely benefits outsiders (hotel and restaurant owners and cheap hired labour from outside), rampaging house prices, unaffordable to locals, are just some of the factors affecting the cultural side of the landscape.

Add to this the banning of fox hunting, certainly a major cultural activity, and then consider the complaints against a speed ban on Windermere by trippers from Stockport and similar places who feel they have been badly treated, although unable to comprehend the annoyance they cause to people living nearby.

Preservation of national treasures is not done on the basis of democracy in the sense that most people at any time would support it. It is done for the long-term good of the nation and to prevent commercialisation destroying every last niche of the natural and traditional landscape.

The people who make these decisions, derided by your correspondents as "faceless quangos", have to have a clear idea of the true object of a national park and not bow to commercial interests or evanescent popular movements. In my life-time the LDNPA was set up and I have seen very significant degradation nevertheless.

Wordsworth, decrying the advent of the railway to Windermere (then the tiny hamlet of Birthwaite), foresaw clearly the destruction of his beloved Lake District 160 years ago and wrote "....for the profit of the shareholders and that of the lower class of inn-keepers, set up wrestling matches, horse and boat races without number, and pot-houses and beer-shops would keep pace with these excitements and recreations, most of which might too easily be had elsewhere".

Let people today who want a theme park look elsewhere where these activities also can be had and leave the place to those who come to seek out the land of peace and quiet, the land of Wordsworth and the fell farmer, and perhaps appreciate the beauties of small things such as lichens on a rock or twisted alders by the beck.

Kent Brooks, Kendal



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