Wednesday 20 December 2017

The Thirlmere Zipwires - just what are National Parks for?

Zipwires over Thirlmere in the Lake District? When I first heard about this proposal I was taken aback. Surely no-one could propose such a thing in the heart of a national park. Well, they have. And it’s causing a big fuss, as it should.

Before looking at the proposal itself I think it’s worthwhile reminding ourselves of the aims and purposes of national parks. These are laid out clearly on Here are some quotes from this document: 

      The Environment Act 1995 …. set out two statutory purposes for national parks in England and Wales:

 1. Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage 
       2. Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national  
     parks by the public

National Parks are protected areas. A protected area is a location which has a clear boundary. It has people and laws that make sure nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it.

Sandford Principle

"Where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment, then conservation interest should take priority"

This principle was updated in the 1995 Environment Act, to say;

"If it appears that there is a conflict between those purposes, [the National Park Authority] shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area"

This is quite clear. I think it’s also quite clear that zipwires over Thirlmere should not be allowed under these terms. Conservation should always take priority. 

Thirlmere is a reservoir with many dense conifer woods on its shores. It’s a man-made lake, the woods are a man-made forest. Does this matter, does this mean any development goes? No. In fact rather the opposite. Areas like this can become wilder (see Wild Ennerdale for an example). Water and trees are natural. They’re not concrete, steel or plastic. Remember the words above, the first purpose of a national park – ‘conserve and enhance’, not ‘damage and degrade’. 

In fact little if any of the Lake District landscape is truly wild. It’s all been influenced and modified by human activity. Few though would argue that it’s not an area of natural beauty. I can’t say I know Thirlmere well but I have looked down on it from neighbouring hills and what I see are woods and water, a peaceful Lake District scene.

Proposing zipwires for Thirlmere is also grimly ironic because it was here that the British conservation movement that eventually led to the creation of national parks had its genesis. The Thirlmere Defence Association, set up to campaign against the proposed reservoir in the 1870s, was the first stirring of organised opposition to destructive developments in areas like the Lake District, opposition that led to the creation of the National Trust and Friends of the Lake District. 

Opposition to the zipwires is growing. Friends of the Lake District and The Wainwright Society have both come out against the proposal. My friend noted film maker Terry Abraham in a bold, brave move resigned publicly as an ambassador for the Lake District Foundation at its relaunch due to the neutral stance of this ‘conservation charity’ to the zipwires. You can read his views here

One thing I should make clear is that I have nothing against zipwires as such. I’m not personally interested in them but if people find them fun that’s fine. It’s the location that matters not the actual nature of the development. There should be nothing done at Thirlmere that doesn’t enhance the natural beauty. And roads, car parks, zipwires and noise certainly won’t do this.

If you agree the zipwires should not go ahead you can write and object on the National Park website. Objections have to be submitted by January 2nd. There’s also a petition on 38 Degrees and you could support Zip Off, which has regular updates on the campaign against the zipwires.

Update: Roger Smith has written an excellent piece for The Great Outdoors here.  The British Mountaineering Council has also objected to the scheme.And now the Council for National Parks has done so too.

Update 2: The opposition mountains up. The National Trust has now objected to the scheme, as has the actor Caroline Quinn. Report on Grough. Also the date for objections has been moved to January 12.


  1. Concisely put Chris. My signature is already on the petition and my letter of objection has been lodged with LDPNA. Let's hope the planning committee agrees with the thousands of people who are against this preposterous proposal.

  2. Thank you Chris. Your points have been put very eloquently. For me it is the idea, as you mention, that zip wires could be put across above the birthplace of British conservation movements - such as the National Trust. I have been aware of this proposal since the end of July and I still sit and shake my head at the thought that anyone could dream up such a plan!

  3. I note the conflicts of interest you expose.A good article.

  4. My letter has been sent to the planning department and petitions signed. What were they thinking?