Family paddling in Derwentwater copyright Dave Willis

What is a World Heritage Site?

World Heritage inscription means the Lake District is recognised by the international community as an area of outstanding universal value. The Lake District now appears on the list of World Heritage Sites.

Who is UNESCO?

This organisation considers more than 30 sites around the world each year for inclusion in the World Heritage List. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) "seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity." This is embodied in an international treaty, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

Cultural Landscape category

The criteria used by UNESCO for selecting World Heritage Sites are quite specific and focus on their definition of outstanding universal value (OUV). The Lake District submission was under the category of Cultural Landscape, defined as representing:

  • "the combined works of nature and of man"
  • "illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal".

Take a look at UNESCO's Criteria for Selection

Why does the Lake District qualify?

Continuity of traditional farming and local industry in a spectacular mountain landscape

The unique Lake District farming system is based on rearing the native Herdwick sheep. It has developed for over 1000 years in response to the upland landscape of fells, lakes, valleys and native woodland. The great beauty of the Lake District comes from the combination of stone walled fields and local farm buildings with a compact and spectacular natural landscape. Both the long duration of our farming culture and the survival to the present day of its distinctive character is considered to be of outstanding universal value.

The social side of Lake District farming is important. It includes:

  • the pattern of family farm tenure
  • the 'hefted' grazing system which allows communal shepherding without fences and walls on the largest area of common grazing in Europe
  • the survival of local dialect

Local industries based on the natural resources of the area (wood, rocks and minerals and water power) have also contributed to the unique character of the Lake District.

Discovery and appreciation of a rich cultural landscape

The early Picturesque interest in the Lake District led to changes to the landscape that were designed to improve its beauty. These include villas, formal gardens, picturesque tree planting and viewing stations.

The Picturesque movement also influenced the development of Romantic thought, principally through the writings of William Wordsworth and other ‘Lakes Poets’. They produced a new and influential view of the relationship between humans and landscape.

Wordsworth's had a sense of the dependence of individual awareness and sensitivity on landscape. This led him to propose in his Guide to the Lakes of 1810 that the Lake District should be deemed "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".

The key ideas of outstanding universal value which derived from this Romantic engagement with the Lake District included:

  • the possibility of a sustainable relationship between humans and nature
  • the value of landscape for restoring the human spirit
  • the intrinsic value of scenic and cultural landscape

The increasing numbers of visitors to the Lake District was supported by traditional open access to the extensive common land of the fells for walking and climbing. This has resulted in the Lake District becoming a globally acknowledged and genuinely inclusive site for outdoor recreation, personal development and spiritual refreshment.

Development of a model for protecting cultural landscape

The important ideas which were developed by the Romantic poets were accompanied by a realisation of the vulnerability of the Lake District landscape to threats such as the railway and industrialisation. In the 19th and 20th centuries this led to conservation battles over the Lake District landscape, including the creation of the Thirlmere reservoir, which led to the development of important movements for protecting the landscape.

The Lake District is internationally important for its role in the creation of the National Trust movement, the inspiration for the designation of UK national parks and the basis for the creation of the World Heritage cultural landscape category.

More details

For more details including maps and photographs, check out the 2013 Technical Evaluation (PDF).