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The Lake District is a compact glaciated upland landscape of radiating U-shaped valleys, many containing long narrow lakes. Rocky mountain tops, open fell pasture and heather-covered slopes contrast with native woodland, exotic plantations and stone-walled fields in the valley bottoms. The dominant use is upland pastoral farming which reached a peak of prosperity in the 17th and 18th centuries. The resulting landscape has aesthetic unity marked by contrast in detail: mountains, moors, lakes, woods, streams, fields, stone walls, farms, villages and small scale industry, reflecting its relative geographical isolation and gradual development.
In the medieval period, fields in the valley bottoms were separated from the open grazing on the fells and this basic pattern continues. In the 18th century the Lake District became a must visit destination for those in search of the Picturesque while the farming landscape and its community provided inspiration to the Romantic Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge and others. The perceived relationship between farmers and the environment led the Lakes Poets to an early formulation of the concept of human ecology. The threat of industrialization sparked a popular movement to protect the Lake District’s landscape beauty. This played a crucial role in the formation of the National Trust in the late 19th century and developing the case for National Parks in the 20th century.
The OUV is expressed in four principal themes: rural landscape and farming traditions; development of the Picturesque aesthetic; the cradle of Romanticism; and the landscape conservation movement. The special significance of the Lake District lies in the interaction between social, economic, cultural and environmental influences. This significance results from an alliance between the aesthetic appeal of its natural environment and unique character of its farming culture inspiring the writers and artists to show how the landscape could appeal to the higher senses and be open to all. This led to the development of a conservation movement to protect this cultural landscape.
The fusion of aesthetics and practical land management triggered a cultural and political movement based on two strands – the power of working cultural landscapes to inspire, and the idea that a partnership could be created between those who work the landscape and those who take their leisure in it so that future generations can continue to benefit from this special place.
The unique role played by the Lake District in the development of ideas and beliefs about landscape formed the pattern both for valuing this type of cultural landscape and the political movement for their conservation. This has had a strong and continuing international influence on approaches to landscape conservation. While aspects of this process are evidenced elsewhere, no single other place was so influential as the Lake District and nowhere else where the physical lineaments of this process can be so seen more clearly.
Criteria met :
(ii) The design of the Lake District landscape exhibits an important interchange of human values not only because of the impact of a significant agricultural tradition but also because of important influences resulting from the picturesque, aesthetic and the early conservation movement. The moves to protect this highly-valued cultural landscape have subsequently had a world-wide influence in two ways: the development of landscape stewardship through responsible ownership (the National Trust model) and landscape protection through special measures of public policy (the Protected Landscape model).
(vi) The Lake District is associated with ideas as well as artistic and literary works. Its special significance was launched by a remarkable alliance between the aesthetic appeal of its environment and unique character of its farming culture with the output of writers and artists, such as William Wordsworth, who showed how it could appeal to the higher senses and be accessible to all.
Integrity: The proposed boundaries include all the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value. The integrity of the Lake District has been maintained by the adaptive farming communities supported via agri-environment schemes and an emphasis on native woodland rather than commercial forest. The stonewalled field systems dating from the medieval period to the end of the 18th centuryare also largely intact, as are vernacular farm buildings. The villas and landscapes of the Picturesque have largely survived as do many residences and places associated with the Ropmantic poets and later conservationists such as John Ruskin and Beatrix Potter. The landscape features attesting to the landscape battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries largely survive, while the creation of the National Park in 1951 is evidence of modern environmental protection.
Authenticity: The farming landscape of the 18th century with its distinctive farmhouses, barns, field walls and native woodland survives along with the remains of important local industries. The tradition of upland farming based on the indigenous Herdwick sheep survives to the present day. There are a number of important examples of villas and designed landscapes built following the Picturesque interest in the Lake District. The farming landscape and stunning natural features which inspired the Romantic poets have survived alongside a number of key residences associated with them, for example Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. The successes and failures of early environmental battles to protect the Lake District can be seen in the present day landscape. The National Trust owns and manages 25% of the National Park which includes some of the Trust’s earliest acquisitions. The 1951 Park boundary encompasses and buffers all the attributes which exemplify OUV and all the features which formed the basis of our 1980’s WHS nominations also survive.
Analysis in 2009 of over 850 World Heritage properties, other sites, and other upland areas of Britain revealed the unique role played by the Lake District in the development of ideas and beliefs about landscape.
Unlike some other mountainous landscapes, on the World Heritage List, such as the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Italian Dolomites or the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, the Lake District is not being proposed for inscription because of its natural grandeur. Its natural landscape beauty stems from its intimate combination of mountains and water, which are strongly influenced by the impacts of past glaciation. In this it shares attributes with some Scandinavian World Heritage Sites such as the Vega Archipelago, the Swedish High Coast and Kvarken Archipelago and the Laponian Area. Unlike them, however, the Lake District is not being proposed as a natural or mixed site but as a cultural site, because it is the interaction of humans with the landscape, through human usage and embellishment, that most strongly characterises the Lake District. As a mountainous landscape preserving the cultural traditions of distinctive forms of upland farming, the Lake District most strongly resembles the Causses and Cevennes World Heritage Site, but with an agricultural system suited to more northerly and Atlantic climes. In its cultural association with art and philosophy, and the associated physical embellishments of the landscape, it shares features with the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhan in China, though the Lake District’s cultural associations are western rather than eastern The Lake District shares attributes with a number of existing World Heritage Sites but it does so in a combination that is uniquely its own and in the association of its landscape with the birth of the conservation movement it is entirely distinct.