Hosts: Ellie Morton, Membership Officer and Douglas Chalmers, Chief Executive.

Panellists: Kate Willshaw, Policy Officer; Lorayne Wall, Planning Officer; Jack Ellerby, Dark Skies Project Officer.                                                           

Thank you to everyone who logged on to hear from members of staff and to ask questions. I hope you found it interesting and informative. For those who couldn't join us on the day, below is a summary of what was discussed, followed by questions raised:

Kate Willshaw talked about her main area of work. This includes transport; energy; and climate change issues.

Transport – we are part of the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership and the LDNPA Partnership, of which Kate sits on the transport group. Out of the National Park Management plan there were many actions and recommendations that were necessary. For example there are issues due to badly parked cars and traffic density. Last year saw the introduction of shuttle buses in some busy areas and this summer sees more structured and frequent buses from Cockermouth to Buttermere and an hourly bus from Keswick to Catbells. It is hoped this will reduce the number of cars. There is now an emergency transport regulation order on the area, which means double yellow lines through Portinscale and along the road to Catbells. Also a 28 day temporary car park in Nether Wasdale so people can park in a field there and get a shuttle bus up to Wasdale Head – hopefully less illegal parking and congestion. There will also be more buses from Ravenglass station into Wasdale.

There are plans afoot with local groups eg Grasmere where they are planning a car-free day.

There is now more joined up working between Stagecoach and the rail companies.

We are in the process at setting up, with the LDNPA, a piece of transport research which will look at long term solutions and aims to find out what a whole range of people actually want when travelling to and around the Lake District, with the aim of making it a more pleasant experience all round when in the Lake District.

We are involved in an application from national highways who want to dual parts of the A66. The issue is that it goes through an AONB so we are trying to make it more acceptable to the landscape.

Regarding climate change, we are working with the two new authorities (Cumberland and Westmorland & Furness) on a range of issues. It is brilliant they are keen to work with us and listen to our ideas.

Lorayne Wall mentioned some of the main planning applications that she’s been dealing with recently, as well as the Copeland Local Plan and the Elterwater development.

Camping and glamping developments have been increasing. This is partly as a result of Covid lockdowns and more people holidaying in the UK, and partly due to the time extension of permitted development so people can run short term camping and glamping sites, but then people have sought to make them permanent after the temporary permit expires. There is a significant application in the Newlands Valley we are helping the local community object to.

Working with Jack, Lorayne has been responding to planning applications where lighting is an issue eg excessive new lighting or excessive glazing.

She has been working with local authorities and communities to inform their local and neighbourhood plans in terms of landscape matters.

Jack Ellerby talked about the Dark Skies project. The project’s main aim is to reduce light pollution. An important aspect of this is raising awareness and showing the many different benefits of reducing light pollution. Jack showed photographs of various streets and footpaths demonstrating the difference ‘before’ and ‘after’ lighting was changed to be dark sky compliant. He has a good working relationship with many parish councils, who are keen to do what they can to improve their street lighting. The Big Switch Off in Ambleside and Grasmere earlier this year was a success.

There were a number of questions raised both before and during the meeting, and I have tried to summarise the answers here:

Q. I am very concerned about proposed campsites in the Newlands Valley, but how can we ensure that the National Park is accessible for everyone and not just those who can afford to stay in hotels or cottages?
A. The temporary campsite rule of 28 days remains, enabling people to access cost-effective camping breaks in the Lakes. The Government will run a consultation soon on potentially extending this. LDNPA do have a policy that when people put in for a change of use from a basic campsite to a lodge park for example that they can refuse it on an individual basis depending on what other accommodation is available in the area, so hopefully allowing for the cheaper, more accessible campsites to still exist. FLD checks the planning lists weekly and responds as necessary, and as a result a few have been changed to be better for the landscape or refused.

Q. How are you helping the farmers keep their sheep on the fells (in a balanced way), and help support this tradition?
A. This is a really hard issue for us all. Traditional hill farming with sheep and cows is undergoing dramatic changes and will do so for the next five or ten years. The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is reducing and by 2027 will no longer exist. Whilst there are some new funding streams becoming available such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), none of them will close the gap caused by the loss of BPS. We will have a new Environmental Land Management Scheme in 2027 of which the SFI is one of three sub schemes, but as yet we have no details of options or payments for two of the three sub schemes. As such, it is almost impossible for farmers to plan what they should do. There is also a newly launched early retirement package for farmers. It is likely we will see a range of reactions to all this – some farmers will retire; some will stock more animals and take no payments; some will adapt to the payment schemes; and some will up their diversification. How this will pan out in the Lakes we just don’t know.

We are also in a nature crisis and a climate change crisis and farmers are centre stage to a lot of people in terms of their impacts/causes of these crises. There is a huge amount of interest in restorative farming techniques and many farmers are already adopting such techniques. Farming has pledged to become carbon neutral. A lot can be done with relatively little change, eg planting up gillsides and corners of fields, leaving lower productivity land to scrub up, etc. So when you put all this together we are facing potentially massive changes to farming and the Lakes landscape. This is of course a real concern, not only for the landscape but also the rural economy, the rural communities and services and how it will impact on the World Heritage Site. The WHS recognises the role farming has played in shaping the landscape especially commoning and hefted flocks.

What does this mean for sheep?
In the main it all points to fewer sheep. This in itself may not necessarily be a bad thing. Numbers of sheep rose dramatically after the war and despite quite severe cuts to sheep numbers for agri environment schemes, there are still significantly more sheep around than there were pre-war. The issue is for the hardy and native breed sheep whether there are enough flocks to allow genetic diversity going forward, and for the commons, whether there are enough commoners and sheep to continue the cultural tradition of commoning and hefted flocks.

What are we doing?
We are one of the few organisations that consider both the natural and the cultural landscape. There are difficult issues ahead and there will not be one answer or solution for everyone. It is likely different areas will have different priorities and solutions.
We have inputted into the Lake District National Park Management Plan section on agriculture, forestry, nature and climate.
We are liaising with the farming organisations and trying to offer support where we can.
We are using our land to demonstrate what can be done for the landscape and nature as well as continuing to have graziers.
We offer advice to farmers if they ask us.
We comment on all applications affecting common land that need common land consent.
We are involved in a lottery funded project looking at common land in the Lake District and three other areas, trying to find more sustainable solutions for our commons.

Q. What priority are you giving to the issue of green lane driving?
A. Friends of the Lake District opposes the use of green lanes by recreational motor vehicles on the grounds of disturbance of peace and tranquillity and damage to biodiversity and the fabric of the roads themselves. Tranquillity is one of the special qualities of the Lake District, with opportunities for people to quietly enjoy the landscape and cultural heritage away from traffic. We consider that green lane use by recreational vehicles is contrary to the first statutory purpose, as it is damaging to the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, whilst also negatively affecting people’s enjoyment of the landscape.

We believe that protected landscapes should not be blighted by heavy traffic, which harms their special qualities, and that some areas should be largely free from traffic and recreational driving on unsealed roads is contrary to the proposal to encourage greater use of sustainable transport and greatly hinders efforts to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.

This is an issue that we are addressing with the Lake District National Park Authority through our membership of the Tilberthwaite Partnership Group, in our role as a member of the Lake District National Park Partnership, and through our response to the Government Consultation on the Glover Landscapes Review https://www.friendsofthelakedistrict.org.uk/faqs/glover-landscape-review

Q. You recently emailed us asking for help to challenge an increase in applications for harmful development in the Lake District. I am interested in your perception as to why this may be happening? Is it for example due to a perceived relaxation in planning policies, or perhaps due to economic factors, or for other reasons?
A. We think it’s partly a Covid effect. We are seeing examples of people not from the area buying land speculatively and applying for campsites, holiday parks etc without knowing the area fully or the impact this will have. Also potentially people holidaying at home due to Covid and for climate change reasons ie not wanting to fly. Bigger developments such as the luge track are also still being proposed which may also be a reaction to more domestic tourists and a changing tourist demographic.

Q. What are your views on the use of link buses, no car zones as in Goyt Valley?
A.  We support the idea of car-free valleys accessed by active travel modes and shuttle buses and are working with the Lake District National Park Partnership to look at implementation in various places in the national park.

Q. The United Utilities pipeline which goes from Thirlmere to Cockermouth is the largest destruction of wildlife in the National Park's history. It is now behind schedule and farmers are furious. Did FLD oppose the pipeline and what is FLD doing now to mitigate its impact?
A. We objected and commented on various lengths of it and tried to get as much mitigation and landscape enhancement in as we could. We have been very aware of the problems and impact on landowners all along the route. As it’s a nationally significant infrastructure project it is difficult to challenge because it’s a government scheme that’s deemed critical. But while the project has been under way we have tried to work with United Utilities and get issues addressed where there have been breaches reported or issues with farmers’ fields not being reinstated as should have been, or work overrunning so that planting issues and grazing have been affected. We have had little success unfortunately, despite meeting with United Utilities several times. There have been fewer reports of problems in the last couple of years though, compared to pre-Covid.

Q. What action are FLD taking to ensure the direct rail links from Barrow and Windermere to Manchester Airport are maintained?
A. This is a high priority for Cumbria County Council and LDNPA. There’s a strong political will to keep the Manchester trains going and also to put in a passing loop to the Windermere line which will mean more trains. The concern is what happens nationally and what the railway companies and national government do. But certainly locally it’s important and a real asset to have these services.

Q. Is there an alternative to yellow lines on country roads?
A. The only big alternative is to stop people using those roads, but at the moment the choice is between badly parked cars up the side of the road or yellow lines, unfortunately. If people could be trusted to drive and park sensibly and safely then there wouldn’t be a problem. Thinner yellow lines are used in National Parks, AONBs and conservation areas.
One of the attendees commented that in Glen Etvie there are new notices in each passing place which state no parking in passing places and shows a picture of a car with a line through it. It’s not 100% effective but has made a great improvement.

Q. What are FLD’s view on the proposed development at Elterwater?
A. We spent some time on site last year with the owners, the potential applicant and their planning consultant. We didn’t go public at that time because they hadn’t. We’ve raised concerns about the traffic impact the development would have, the accessibility to the site (which already suffers from parking and traffic issues), landscape impact, a right of way runs through it etc. We’ll keep members updated as it’s a big concern. There’s more information on our website here

Thank you all once again for continuing to engage with us and support the work we do. We look forward to seeing you again – either in person or virtually – soon.