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English Lake District World Heritage Site

What is it?

To be part of the World Heritage Site family, sites must be of outstanding universal value. The English Lake District became a World Heritage Site in 2017 under UNESCO’s Cultural Landscape category, meaning that it is globally important for ‘the combined works of nature and of man’.

There are three themes which sum up why the Lake District is so important. They are all interlinked and helped to shape the Lake District both in terms of its land use and protection:

  1. A landscape of exceptional beauty, shaped by persistent and distinctive agro-pastoral traditions and local industry which gives it special character.
  2. A landscape which has inspired artistic and literary movements and generated ideas about landscapes that have had global influence and left their physical mark.
  3. A landscape which has been the catalyst for key developments in the national and international protection of landscapes.

More information on these can be found here: The English Lake District

Heritage no longer At Risk

Over the last 12 years the amount of ‘Heritage at Risk’ in the Lake District has substantially declined in relation to listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. The rate of removal from the register has slowed recently, as the last few sites present more complex management challenges requiring more resource.

Farm Survey – 2022-23

In 2022 a farm baseline survey was undertaken to plug a gap in understanding about Lake District farm ownership, farm types, land use, livestock numbers, farm sizes and the nature of the labour force. We also wanted to know more about the structures on farms (such as stone walls), and traditional processes (including hefting).

The survey was specifically designed to explore the features of Outstanding Universal Value created and maintained by farm businesses. About 8% of farms in the World Heritage Site responded representing a good range of the types of farm business found in the National Park. We also wanted to understand changes that have taken place since the Lake District became a World Heritage Site in 2017, and to ask the farming community for their views on the future.

The report makes a number of recommendations on how to support farmers and the agro-pastoral system of farming going forward, which is such an important element of the World Heritage Site.

Farming in Protected Landscapes programme – 2022-23

The Farming in Protected Landscapes programme (FiPL) supports a number of projects which conserve, protect or enhance the World Heritage Site. Below are a few examples from the 2022-23 financial year. (Updates on other FiPL-funded projects can be found in the Farming, Forestry, Nature and Climate section of this website.)

Promoting local farm produce – 2022-23

A recent FiPL project promoted local farm produce, adding value to it through association with the World Heritage Site branding. It also focused on promoting links between the product and the cultural landscape in which it is produced. This enables local people and visitors to engage with the cultural landscape and generate a better understanding of farming and its contribution to the World Heritage Site.

Through a leaflet produced in 2023 and additional information on the World Heritage website, the project provided the opportunity for people to learn about the environment and how farming, including its local livestock, shapes this cultural landscape.

World Heritage Site tweed

FiPL has provided funding to create Lake District Tweeds representing the 13 valleys of the World Heritage Site from locally sourced wool. Maria Benjamin from Dodgson Wood, Nibthwaite Grange Farm is creating 13 new
local tweeds and cloth, using wool sourced from each of the Lake District valleys. It is a project which connects people to the history and culture of wool production in the Lakes. Importantly, farmers get a good price for their wool plus 10% of the profit from the sale of the cloth. Maria’s business brings together farming, cultural heritage and sustainable production, to supports farmers and value the local economy. Some tweeds were designed in 2021-22, with a further four created in the 2022-23 reporting year.

Restoration of a clapper bridge in Longsleddale

A clapper bridge, believed to be the original drovers’ route through Longsleddale valley dating back to medieval times, has been restored. It is the tenant sheep farmer’s only vehicular access to their fell land. The footing for the bridge had been washed out by storm flow in the ghyll it crosses, so the project reinforced the riverbank, rebuilding the footing and facing it with dry stone walling, before replacing the original large clapper stones, which were still on site. The restoration followed construction methods sensitive to the historic structure in its original style.

The repaired bridge (photo c/o Richard Austin)
Sheep fleece used to supress weeds around new planting

Renovation of Ruskin’s’ upland agricultural experiments at Brantwood Estate

John Ruskin, a Victorian writer, artist, and social reformer, used several areas of the Brantwood Estate on Coniston Water to conduct his agricultural experiments. The Brantwood team has now begun to reinstate these areas. FiPL has helped to fund the planting of several cropable plants that Brantwood’s Head Chef is keen to make available to the public. The plants include a small tea plantation, unusual edible plants and a range of Birch and Acer species that are going to be used for tree syrup production experiments. These experiments will ensure that John Ruskin’s legacy continues, and visitors have the opportunity to learn about his role in Lake District history.

Excavating at Ravenglass

Romans in Ravenglass – 2022-23

This community archaeology project aims to uncover new information about the Roman archaeology and landscape development of Ravenglass through a programme of survey and excavation funded by Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Copeland Community Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The project has four central aims:

  • To develop greater interest in the site amongst the local community and encourage future involvement in its investigation and protection.
  • To provide members of the community with an opportunity to investigate the history of their locality, to engage with it and to learn new skills.
  • To give the local community a better understanding of the development of their local landscape and their place within it.
  • To provide wellbeing and learning opportunities for people in the local community, particularly young people and school children.
Bridget Gerry finding the base of a Roman pot. Photo c/o AOC Archaeology Group

The project has actively liaised with local community well-being groups, such as Copeland’s Social Prescribing Team which aims to connect residents with groups, activities and services that might be beneficial to health and wellbeing.
Three trenches were excavated in March 2022 with one revealing evidence of a Roman road, another a probable building, and the third contained waste pits associated with the settlement. Lots of Roman pottery was found, including mortaria (for food preparation), amphora (for storage) and samian ware (high quality dining ware).

The public was able to come and see the excavation taking place, including a number of visits by schools: we hope to be able to soon share how many school children visited and also how many people attended through the Copeland Social Prescribing initiative.

Underhousing at the newly-listed Grade II bank barn at Mireside Farm, Crosthwaite

Building Preservation notices and new listings – 2022-23

In 2022, the Lake District National Park Authority issued five Building Preservation Notices (BPN) which resulted in a number of significant, but previously un-listed sites being added to the National Heritage List (the ‘List’). A BPN can be issued by the Local Authority where a site is identified as having high levels of heritage significance. The BPN in effect ‘lists’ the site for a period of six months, in which time Historic England carry out their official assessment and decide whether to recommend the site to the Secretary of State for inclusion on the List.

Sites where a BPN was served and the site added to the List at Grade II include:

Coombe Gill Mill and the nearby packhorse bridge in Borrowdale. This former corn mill has been a source of artistic inspiration for several centuries; painted by John Constable and William Green in the early nineteenth century, it now regularly appears on photo-sharing social media sites.

Beckside Farmhouse and two barns, near Crook. This grouping of a seventeenth-century farmhouse and eighteenth-century barns is
a rare unaltered farmstead, with a wealth of historic original interiors including extensive oak panelling in the farmhouse and intact slate and timber boskins (divisions between animal stalls) inside the bank barn.

Mireside Farmhouse and bank barn, near Crosthwaite. This seventeenth-century farmhouse and eighteenth-century bank barn, along with a later-nineteenth-century barn, form a characterful, unaltered farmstead.

Building Preservation Notices – 2023-24

In 2023 we served a Building Preservation Notice at Collinfield Farm in the Winster Valley. This 17th century farmhouse, with two 18th century bank barns, was put up for sale on the open market and we were alerted to the historic interest of the buildings and interest being expressed by potential purchasers in demolishing the buildings and redeveloping the site. A Building Preservation Notice was served in August 2023 which gave the buildings immediate protection. The site was subsequently assessed by Historic England and the farmhouse and both bank barns listed Grade II in January 2024.

Local Heritage List – 2022-23

This unusual stile, on Cunswick Fell near Plumgarths, is now on the Local List.

In March 2023 the Lake District National Park Authority approved its first ever Local Heritage List. The LDNPA has been working with colleagues from local councils on a project to develop a Cumbria-wide list since it was successful at gaining funding for the project in 2021. Some buildings, sites, places, monuments and gardens have heritage value, and should be recognised as making a contribution to local character and  distinctiveness. These are not already designated as listed buildings as they are of local rather than national importance. For this reason, entries on the local list are known as ‘non-designated heritage assets’ (along with other sites which are not locally listed).

Keeping non-designated heritage assets from harm is an aim of the planning system. However, being on Cumbria’s Local List does not confer any extra level of planning control in its own right, but the local listing does provide clarity, consistency and strategy. Members of the public are invited to nominate sites which they feel are locally important, add character to the area and have some heritage value. Nominations are judged against set criteria and are reviewed by an independent panel.

More information can be found here: Local list: Lake District National Park

Historic Building Restoration Grants – 2023-24

Following on from feasibility studies completed in 2022-23 and funded through FiPL, we have been able to fund emergency repairs at Low Fell End, Witherslack. A Grade II listed farmstead, with 17th century farmhouse and 18th bank barns – the latter needing urgent works to stabilise masonry and repair the roof.

Works began in December 2023 and will be completed in early 2024.

In October 2023, DEFRA launched the Historic Building Restoration Grant scheme, a ring-fenced pot of money, to be managed through FiPL for traditional barn repairs. We have been working with farmers and landowners to get as many of the projects developed in 2023 into this scheme and we hope to be able to complete repairs to over 15 sites in 2024.

Highlighting History at Lowther – 2023-24

With grant funding from the National Grid’s Landscape Enhancement Initiative (https://www.nationalgrid.com/electricity-transmission/network-and-infrastructure/visual-impact-provision/landscape-enhancement-initiative), the Lowther Estate has completed its ‘Highlighting History at Lowther’ project.
The project aimed to conserve and restore 8 historic features within the Grade II-Registered Park and Garden at Lowther and provide 3 training days in traditional lime mortar skills.

The features restored included: 2 lime kilns; a water trough; Low Gardens Bridge; the Hoggist building; 2 dew ponds and the Grade II-listed gate piers for Lowther Castle opposite the college. The gate piers have now been removed from the Grade II Buildings at Risk list.

There were 3 training days in the use of lime mortar in August 2023. These were successful with positive feedback: ‘I just wanted to say a really quick thank you for the Lime course today. The guys were absolutely great – very knowledgeable and the course was really informative and good fun! It was a pleasure to be a part of.’

The benefits of the project mean that the historic environment of the registered park and garden will be conserved for the future; skills and knowledge about the historic environment have been, and will continue to be, exchanged and developed in the local community and the enjoyment of the rich archaeology and historic landscape will be enhanced.

Archaeology Volunteer Network – 2023-24

Last year we reported on the 10th Anniversary of the Archaeology Volunteer Network. The Network continue to make a valuable contribution to the historic environment of the National Park through bracken management on Heritage at Risk sites and undertaking archaeological surveys to find previously unknown sites. This information is vital to ensure we can provide accurate and detailed advice to those looking to undertake land use change, enter agri-environment schemes and submit planning applications. This year one of our groups have been surveying in the southwest of the National Park at Cragg Farm, Eskdale.

Here the team have undertaken detailed archaeological survey of sites identified on the farm, revealing that the location of the first farm on the site, dating from around the 1400s, could well have been to the east of the existing farmhouse. The site has a longhouse with a kitchen garden, a livestock enclosure and two associated buildings next to a revetted trackway heading through the Eskdale valley. Another group of buildings higher up towards the fell are a possible shieling settlement, where farmers would have taken their stock in the summer months, putting them out to graze on the fell. They also found potash kilns, where green bracken was burnt to produce a soap used to clean fleeces for the woollen mills, other longhouses and a dam. This information is being used by the owners of Cragg Farm to inform their agri-environment scheme and to understand the cultural landscape in which they live.

Interpretation Strategy – 2023-24

A recommendation from the World Heritage Committee in September 2023 was that we should produce an Interpretation Strategy for the English Lake District World Heritage Site (WHS). The Interpretation Strategy is a tool for the delivery of interpretation which will help people to make sense of, and understand more about, the WHS and its heritage, and communicate its Outstanding Universal Values (OUV) to residents, businesses, and visitors. It will support the Partnership to engage those communities who are strongly associated with OUV and will lead to consultation with each valley community. It will see the Partnership building on its existing work engaging with farming communities.

The Strategy will review existing interpretation undertaken by many Partner organisations and others. It will identify the various audiences we are trying to engage with. It will consider the various management documents, including the Destination Management Plan and Partnership Plan, which will assist in the interpretation of this WHS. It will also propose actions that need to be undertaken to deliver quality interpretation.

The draft Interpretation Strategy has been agreed by the WHS Steering Group and we will now consult with UNESCO, the Partnership, Business Task Force, and local communities. Once we have received feedback, the Interpretation Strategy will be updated accordingly and adopted and work to deliver will begin. The final Strategy will include an outline schedule and an action plan.

Nature recovery and farming in a World Heritage Site – 2023-24

The Farming in Protected Landscapes programme (FiPL) provided funding to create promotional material highlighting work on farming-related nature recovery within the World Heritage Site (WHS) to provide examples to inspire other farmers and local community groups to do more for nature recovery, also to demonstrate how FiPL can assist with delivering farming-led nature recovery and farm diversification. The Partnership is committed to nature recovery, and it is therefore important to promote farming-led nature recovery projects where farmers can receive funding to undertake such work. There is an urgent need to make this cultural landscape and its landscape-defining features more resilient to the effects of climate change, and in the long term be more sustainable.

Initially the promotional material (two roller banners) will be used at a World Heritage UK conference – to be held in the Lake District – on WHS and Nature to highlight activities within the WHS, engaging with a wider national audience attending. At a local – WHS site – level, this material can then be used by the Lake District National Park Authority’s Farming officers and Rangers to take to farming events to explain how FIPL grant-aid can be used to help with farm diversification. Grants can provide additional income, support nature-friendly sustainable farms, assist farms to take action to mitigate climate change and also to sustain the cultural landscape of family farms.

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