No one can agree on whether the Lake District needs more ‘diverse’ visitors

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Monday 30 December 2019 09:45
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(Getty)

It’s hard to envisage how the tranquil landscape of the Lake District would spark a fearsome internet debate, but that’s exactly what’s happened in the last 24 hours.

People are arguing over the “diversity” of the visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site. But what do they mean by this?

Essentially, the heated discussion started after the head of the Lake District National Park Authority said the area needs to become more inclusive if it wants to be able to continue attracting public funding.

Richard Leafe told Sky News that the Lake District won’t be able to continue as a “national” park if it’s unable to appeal to a broad group of people. He wrote:

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.

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.

Leafe went on to specify what he meant - that visitors to the parks in Cumbria were overwhelmingly white and able-bodied.

"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.

This is not a new problem for the parks –​ as far back as 2005 it was recognised that the lakes predominantly attracted “middle-aged, middle-class white people,” and more should be done to enable other demographics to experience the natural beauty spot.

But, obviously, the internet has been triggered by the suggestion that more people in Britain could stand to benefit from enjoying the landscape.

Many are accusing Leafe of being too “woke” – ignoring the fact he says that a more diverse crowd of visitors is actually just good business if the parks want to remain funded.

Far-right media personality Paul Joseph Watson tweeted scornfully about the headlines, adding “Imagine being told that visitors to the Great Wall of China were too ‘Chinese,” which isn’t actually what Leafe said but go off, I guess.

It is unclear whether Watson has visited the Lake District or, indeed, ever left his mother’s basement.

Other members of the outrage industrial complex also chimed in.

Darren Grimes added his two cents...

Another tweeter reposted the report saying “Awoken to the news the Lake District is now racist. Give me f**king strength.”

However, Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive for the Centre for Mental Health said he was “sad” to see newspapers mocking the story, adding “Making beautiful places more accessible to most marginalised in society will help improve health & reduce inequalities.”

But it wasn’t just right-wingers who were working themselves into a tizzy – conservationists were also unhappy with Leafe’s comments, saying that more visitors would exacerbate existing environmental issues the area is struggling with.

Activist groups are currently challenging the Lake District National Park Authority over its refusal to ban 4x4 vehicles from trails in the area.

Keswick Town Council also recently passed a vote of no confidence in the organisation after it created a tarmac path through woodland.

But others agreed that the Lake District does have obvious barriers when it comes to attracting a wider range of people.

Perhaps everyone should just stay home and be miserable together?

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