UNESCO's Man Made Lake District

View of Langdale Boulders resting under the protective gaze of the Langdale Pikes stripped bare by sheep grazing.

I recently escaped to the Lake District National Park in Cumbria for a 4 day break. Just me, my trusty tent, associated cooking & hiking gear and, of course, a camera.

Since I was a teenager I've regularly enjoyed running away into the mountains, be it within the UK or further afield in the Alps, Rockies or some of the more remote outposts across Europe. Whether arid, temperate or snow filled, I love the beguiling weather that accompanies the exquisite light and solitude that flows over mountain topography. The Lake District offers these qualities in abundance but they are coupled with a serious 'gotcha'.

Although the aforementioned mountain regions offer starkly different flora & fauna, physical geology and developmental history, they do share one prevalent visual trope (the gotcha) that is often not spoken about in landscape photography; evidence of human activity. An abundant and deeply rooted human activity that is millennia-refined, found on each of the world's continents and largely grouped into 3 main categories: 1) relentless extraction of stone, minerals and ore 2) an ever growing demand for power, mostly generated via hydroelectric & wind infrastructure and 3) highly intensive systems employed by industrialised agriculture - designed primarily for grazing sheep and cows to facilitate meat, milk and clothing production.

Elterwater quarry tucked away, out of sight (and not advertised) in Chapel Stile.

This particular trip to the Lakes was my first since the English Lake District was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in July 2017.

Much praise was posted online and across traditional media oulets and it was certainly a huge commercial gain for the 25 organisations of the Lake District National Park Partnership that structured a bid championing the area's cultural heritage, a heritage mostly created during the Romanticism movement 170+ years ago and flourishes well in the 21st century. An earlier application by the LDNPP for *natural* world heritage status was dismissed by UNESCO on the grounds of excessive human activities, so it was decided to restructure the bid and repackage those perennial Lake District best sellers; Wordsworth, Potter, Wainwright et al., in order to succeed. 

As much as I adore the Lake District, I was personally troubled by the award as it reinforces a distorted, misconceived vision of natural beauty which ignores (and excuses) man made environmental damages. Luckily, writer George Monbiot provided a clear and authoritative voice against the UNESCO award, carefully detailed in his article The Lie of the Land (which was also published in The Guardian). I tweeted support for his article here.

Old managed estate woodland collapsing into the roadside boundary to the Blawith Fells.

One always takes a chance dodging wet weather in Lake District (the hamlet of Seathwaite is England's wettest inhabited place) and even during the 'drier' month of July, the risk of a good soaking remains resolutely high. So yep, you guessed it, the skies opened and rain poured down persistently, making my hikes across the higher fells rather tiresome. To have a fairer chance of making new photographs, I decided to drop down into the lower valleys for the last day, to see if a break in the weather would provide me with some UNESCO man made landscape vistas to photograph. Inspired by George Monbiot's article, I used the welcome rain-free time to piece together a scrapbook of images to build the foundation for a future personal project.

Staying within the south western corner of the Lakes, I drove around looking for signatures of man's imprint on the landscape. Within the "Beatrix Potter-themed sheep museum" (Monbiot's description of the Lake District's fresh UNESCO status) landscapes formed by extraction, agriculture and land management could be viewed from just about every bend in the road and turn on the forest trail. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find just 1 of the Lake District National Park's 583,747 acre area that hasn't been shaped by human needs!

I've featured 3 photographs from that scrapbook - detailing extraction, agriculture and land management. Although I feel they offer subjective beauty and intrigue, they are far from natural - with all having mankind's influence running throughout their content.