I don’t often get angry enough to write letters, but I wrote one today to the planners at the Lake District National Park Authority, registering my objection to a proposal to open an “Activity Hub” including eight zip wires, across Thirlmere, in the Lake District. If approved, would damage an important part of one of the most beautiful areas of England.
If you agree, I urge you to sign the petition here:
Please also write a letter to the planners. Information about how to do that is here:
You can send your letter in the form of an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The main part of my own objection letter is below.
My objection is principally that the application is in conflict with both the spirit of the National Park’s foundation, and the statutory purpose of the Lake District National Park Authority, which is to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the Lake District National Park”.
The Lake District National Park has many special qualities, but it is defined by the beauty of its landscape. Although visitors have a wide range of activities available to them in the National Park (including three excellent, low impact zip wire attractions) it is for the landscape that most of them visit: they climb the hills, swim, sail, and paddle the lakes, or just look at the view. These activities are available to almost everyone, and have a universal value. They offer spiritual renewal, and require a personal engagement with the landscape, its wildlife, and its history that are part of the reason for the Park’s existence. Almost all require some level of fitness and adventurousness, but have a manageable impact on the landscape itself.
By contrast, the proposed zip wires and their associated infrastructure will permanently degrade the appearance and tranquility of the Thirlmere valley for everyone, while offering a short thrill ride for a relatively small number of visitors. Riding a zip wire is an almost entirely passive activity, similar to riding a roller coaster at a theme park. It does nothing to enhance the unique and special qualities of the Lake District, but on the contrary reduces it to the level of an Alton Towers or Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It will bring with it traffic, noise, damage to habitats, and will do nothing to foster the idea that the landscape needs to be conserved, looked after, and improved. In this regard it is anathema to everything the National Parks stand for.
In 1935, JB Priestley, wrote “It is still too often assumed that any enterprising fellow after quick profits has a perfect right to destroy a loveliness that is the heritage of the whole community.” I hope that the LDNPA will reject this application, and demonstrate that we have made progress since then.
One of the things I find most fascinating about the process of trying to understand the past is the extent to which we forget collectively about things that no longer seem to matter. How things that were once an acceptable or at least tolerable part of life become almost inconceivable. What we call progress is not simply a matter of overcoming problems and sidestepping obstacles, but of denying they exist. The Icelandic volcano that has disrupted air travel across Europe in the past month has been a reminder of just how dependent we are on a stable and predictable environment. We want our transport to be reliable and nothing less than a volcanic eruption can stand in our way. But even so the idea of being delayed in our travels round the globe because of a volcano seems faintly ridiculous. Volcanos are so prehistoric and passenger jets are so, well, shiny and modern. But what if transport, industry, and commerce could be disrupted by something as mundane as the wind blowing in the wrong direction?
In March 1822 William Scoresby and his crew of fifty men were preparing to sail from Liverpool to the whale fishery off Greenland in the ship, Baffin. Unfortunately the voyage was delayed for about a week because a westerly wind prevented them from leaving the dock. This would no doubt have caused problems for Captain Scoresby, since not only would the men have to be retained on the ship (as it happens two of the crew deserted during the delay) but the loss of a week from the short Arctic hunting season was expensive. Scoresby finally managed to begin his voyage north on March 27th when the wind shifted a little southward, but his ship was almost alone when it left the Mersey. Here’s how he describes it:
[We] were prevented from sailing by strong westerly winds, which prevailed for several days … At this time, nearly 500 ships were lying in the different docks wind-bound; but scarcely any of them attempted to put to sea on this occasion as the wind was not suitable for the South Channel, the outlet most suitable for the voyages to which the principal part of the fleet was destined.
Scoresby’s troubles should be seen in a wider context: around forty percent of world trade was conducted through Liverpool in the early nineteenth century. Delays had a significant effect not only on individual ships but on the economy of Britain as a whole. Far more significant, no doubt, than the restrictions on European flights are today. It is also worth noting that the prevailing wind in Liverpool is from the West.
The Long Arctic Night is a fictionalised account of William Barents’ third voyage to the Arctic in search of the Northeast Passage, a voyage from which he did not return. I credit this book with turning me into a reader. It wasn’t the first ‘chapter’ book I read for myself, but it is the one I remember most clearly. I was a bit worried that reading it again would be a disappointment but it is every bit as clear and well paced as I remember.
Barents set out on May 6, 1596, from Amsterdam, only for his ship to become trapped in the ice, forcing the crew to overwinter in a tiny wooden hut they built on Nova Zembla:
Meanwhile we had made good progress with the building of our hut, and the four walls were almost completed, so that everyone could see there were to be three doors, one facing east, one south, and one west. The north wall, however, was entirely solid, as the rawest and coldest winds generally blow from that direction; and Piet, well aware of that, had, with foresight, provided for it in his construction plan. … On the following day we added the slanting roof, which sloped at an oblique angle from north to south, and covered it thickly with mud paste, which froze as usual the instant it was applied.
The men encounter bears, live on seal meat and develop scurvy. When the ice finally melts the following Spring they find the ship has been crushed, forcing them to sail back to the mainland in two small boats.
Amazingly the hut itself was rediscovered almost 300 years later, in 1871; many artefacts were recovered and are kept at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The photograph shows how it looked in 1881, but the site is now marked by a memorial and is visited by arctic cruise ships. In recent years, as global warming melts the ice, the Northeast Passage has become passable to shipping, shaving around 3000 miles from the journey between the Netherlands and South Korea.
The photograph below was taken by Chris Jordan, a photographer whose work I have just discovered. The pictures speak for themselves, but it’s worth quoting Jordan himself: “not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries.” If anyone you know is in any doubt that we are screwing things up in ways that won’t work out well, show them this (the whole gallery is here):
Chris Jordan’s web gallery is well worth a visit.