Sustainable Tourism In Cumbria: The UK’s First Carbon Neutral County?

Melina Williams

As the climate crisis escalates, it is becoming more and more evident that human activity is behind the record temperature rise and that we must take action sooner rather than later. Cumbria, the home of the Lake District, has set out a new carbon neutral plan, with the aim of becoming the UK’s first carbon neutral county by 2037.

The impacts of climate change are already visible in Cumbria, with the increased flooding and longer spells of heat and dryness identifiable as a risk to the health of the community. As a result, all the county’s districts have committed to the goal to become carbon neutral, an ambition with sustainable tourism at its heart.

An ideal outcome would not require a reduction in the volume of tourists, rather an opportunity to allow people to visit in a more sustainable manner

Last August, the ambition was fuelled by £2.5m of national lottery funding with the intention of it being gradually provided throughout five years starting this year. Achieving decarbonisation is no mean feat for any county, but especially not for one which attracts so many visitors, with 48 million people travelling there in 2019. Tourism generates £3.13bn and supports thousands of jobs, a major part of the local economy, and so an ideal outcome would not require a reduction in the volume of tourists, rather an opportunity to allow people to visit in a more sustainable manner.

One of the main contributors to Cumbria’s carbon footprint is transport, and so tourists must be encouraged to make use of public transport options and undertake active travel. According to Emma Moody, the sustainable transport advisor for the National Park Authority, “three quarters of visitors already go for a walk while they’re [there] and it’s about getting them to do it more”.

The journey towards sustainable tourism will be achieved through multiple initiatives

Electric vehicle charging points and electric buses are in the plan, alongside a low-carbon food scheme, which is hoped to encourage tourists to get onboard. Restaurants will be urged to decarbonise their menus through offering the carbon footprint of each item in order to educate visitors about the impact of their choices. Local agriculture will also be funded, with hopes that farmers will extend their livestock from predominantly dairy and meat to fruit and vegetables also.

According to the Lake District National Park website, the journey towards sustainable tourism will be achieved through multiple initiatives.

  1. Go Lakes Travel

This is a programme funded by the Department of Transport through a £6.9m initiative. Its aim is to change how visitors travel to and around the Lake District, with a focus on more sustainable travel methods. Some of the objectives include:

  • Improving public transport options and tackling congestion on the roads
  • Developing and maintaining safe networks for travelling on foot, cycling and wheelchair users
  • Creating a network of pay-as-you-go options
  • Protecting local residents and the community

2. Fix the Fells

The county’s mountainous environment is at threat of footpath erosion, as walking is a popular activity for those visiting and damage to the mountains also has the potential to prove detrimental to the tourism industry. This programme is led by the National Trust, partnered with other organisations who work to repair and maintain the paths in order to prevent further erosion.

3. Lake District Foundation

A charity established in August 2017, previously known as Nurture Lakeland, which works to raise funds through the visitors and tourists in the Lake District.

4. Love Your Lakes

This programme urges visitors, locals and businesses to join efforts to reduce the number of phosphates entering Windermere, which will improve the quality of the water and reduce toxic algae.

5. Low Carbon Cottages

A scheme which, working alongside owners of holiday cottages and letting companies, aims to reduce carbon emissions and the costs of running traditional cottages. They will try to do so whilst still maintaining the character of the properties and proving that environmental standards can be maintained economically.

It is hoped that the impacts of the actions taken will be evident beyond merely Cumbria. The partnerships aim to demonstrate what is possible when so many companies and communities come together to reduce emissions, hopefully a catalyst for widespread action.

Melina Williams

Featured and in-article images courtesy of Charlotte SmithNo changes were made to the images.

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