I am delighted that at the end of five months of fascinating discussions, slightly less fascinating hours battling with spreadsheets, academic articles and statistics, I have completed my project and am in the position to be able to share the results.
Firstly, I would like to take the chance to give huge thanks to all the representatives of organisations who engaged so fully in interviews, distributed questionnaires, offered invaluable feedback throughout and showed an enthusiasm for the project which was hugely motivating for me. I would also like to thank all the 1044 members of the public who took the time to take the survey giving real weight and statistical impact to the results and engaging passionate opinions about the future of the Lakes from people from across the country, from a wide range of professions and organisations. Many respondents commented that they had enjoyed doing the questionnaire because it made them think about what the Lakes meant to them for the first time. I’ve been amazed myself, after years of living in and visiting the Lakes, that it continued, and continues to pose those questions for me and I hope that the process was as enjoyable and interesting for everyone who took part as it has been for me.
What did the project do…
The project looked at four possible scenarios for the future of the Lake District National Park:
- Scenario A – continuation of the existing agricultural public funding and corresponding support of a status quo in Lake District land use with an emphasis on the farmed cultural landscape.
- Scenario B – a shift in government support towards diversification, resulting in a particular focus on tourism development in the Lake District.
- Scenario C – a reduction of government funding alongside a change in philosophy towards rewilding in the Lake District, envisaging reduced farming and a wilder landscape with the possibility of alternative industries such as wildlife re-introductions and associated tourism.
- Scenario D – an increasing focus on land management for broader ‘eco-system services’ – for example managing the land to protect water quality and store carbon. This could involve increased tree cover and vegetation which may also aid wildlife.
You can see the full detail of the project_scenarios here.
The project had two main phases:
1 – A range of interviews with key stakeholder organisations such as the National Park Authority, the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, Natural England, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.
2 – A public survey carried out online and also handed out at locations around the Lakes over the summer.
What did I find out?
In its simplest terms, the results could be summarised by saying that the public seem to favour maintenance of current land use with 51% of respondents choosing Scenario A as their preferred scenario. Depending on your point of view this could be interpreted as strong support for traditional communities and landscapes, or as a status quo bias, by which people in general dislike change and want to maintain what they assume the Lakes to have ‘always been like’. In reality there are surely elements of both. The more interesting results of the project are, I think, the investigation of the factors which may influence the choice of scenario – ie not so much which scenario people chose, but why.
In this respect it is interesting to note that the views of stakeholder organisation did not necessarily match those seen in the general public. It is therefore interesting to think about the different perceptions of the Lakes amongst these groups and how they may have affected which scenario people preferred.
Using a combination of statistical analysis and reviewing the statements made both in the interviews and through the questionnaires I looked at who favoured different scenarios, and why this may be case.
- This split the opinion of interviewees (5 chose it as their most preferred, 5 as their least)
- However it was the MOST popular with questionnaire respondents
(51% preferred, 16% least preferred)
- It tended to be favoured by respondents who felt that the state of the ecology and wildlife in the Lakes is good, that farmers are important for food security and wildlife and that the Lakes has only changed a little over the last 200 years.
- This is important and to an extent explains the difference between the organisations interviewed and the members of the public. The organisations who selected this as their least favoured scenario tended to be wildlife and ecology focused organisations. They tended to feel that the state of the wildlife and ecology was not good (see State of Nature Report), and that intensive farming was a considerable contribution to that. Therefore they favoured scenarios which altered the status quo and improved the situation for wildlife and ecology.
- This scenario also showed a difference between the interviewees (who largely saw this as an accepted, important part of the Lakes’ future) and the public questionnaire respondents who voted this their least favourite scenario (38% least preferred).
- This largely seemed to be explained because many members of the public were concerned that any increase in tourism would risk the Lakes becoming overcrowded and overly commercialised.
- The philosophy of rewilding certainly generated a considerable amount of discussion amongst both interviewees and questionnaire respondents. There was passionate support and opposition but also a growing influence of a potential role for rewilding by selective use, in certain areas.
- However, it was largely not considered an appropriate scenario across the whole of the Lakes with stakeholder organisations considering it their least preferred and being the second least popular option amongst questionnaire respondents.
- This was for a number of reasons but focused around negative connotations of the idea of ‘abandonment’ and support for existing landscapes and livelihoods.
- There appeared to be strong opportunities for the development of broader eco-system service focused land use.
- It was the second most popular option both with stakeholder interviewees and with the public through the questionnaire.
- However, some issues were seen in the difficulty of communicating the concept and explaining the potential combine ecology and wildlife benefits.
A key conclusion was that people’s opinions regarding potential future land use in the Lake District depended greatly on their perceptions of how it is now, and how it has changed over time. Therefore, the project suggests that a key area in future will be the relative success of organisations in sharing more information and developing a greater understanding amongst the general public about the state of the wildlife, the importance of the cultural landscape, the positive and negative effects farming can have and a better understanding amongst the users of the Lake District about its past, present and potential future.
I hope that my project has done a little to help with this by getting people to think a little bit more about the landscape they see and what is important to them about the Lakes. It certainly has done for me…
To that end I plan to publish a short series of quotes, snippets and further details from the project over the next week – if you are interested to find out more, follow the blog. You can also find out more about the background to the project, respondents’ enthusiasm to see more trees and less sheep, what they considered the main purposes of the Lake District and further details of the results of the surveys, in the project executive_summary. If you would like to know anything else, please do get in touch: