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Plans for a controversial zipwire complex in the Lake District National Park have come under fire from all sides

A planning application by TreeTop Trek has been in the spotlight lately with a proposed ‘Thirlmere Activity Hub’, to include eight zipwires along two routes crossing Thirlmere itself and the A591. The zipwires will be 1,200m long and will pass 130m above the water. This would make the proposed zipwires the longest and highest in England by a considerable margin. In total, TreeTop Trek propose £1.3 million investment creating 53 jobs, of which 27 will be full-time positions.

A document providing an overview of the proposals can be downloaded from Keswick Tourism’s website here.

TreeTop Trek said: “We recognise and respect that this proposal has valid opposition but firmly believe that it will have an extremely positive impact on the tourism economy and reinforce Keswick’s reputation as the Adventure Capital of the Lake District and UK.”

Inappropriate commercial development

It’s fair to say that the proposal has attracted broad condemnation. While there’s potential to bring a huge amount of tourism and profit to businesses in the area, the plans have been rightly criticised for plundering the natural scenic beauty of the Thirlmere area for commercial gain.

The BMC published their objection on December 12, stating that the plans were at odds with experiencing the landscape. Their specific grounds for objection include expected negative impact on road traffic, ‘impacts upon the landscape character and tranquility of Thirlmere’, introducing commercial development to an area of tranquility, and the worry that this scheme will set a precedent for future – potentially even worse – developments.

The BMC have published a useful email template people can adapt for their own use. Objections must be sent to thirlmereactivity@lakedistrict.gov.uk by 12 January 2018.

Independent conservation charity Friends of the Lake District have also strongly condemned the plans:

“We believe that the Thirlmere Valley should be protected from inappropriate commercial development such as the zip wires being proposed.

“The siting of zip wires east-west across Thirlmere we consider to be wholly inappropriate in this location and we strongly object to this element of the proposal.”

The charity urges concerned members of the public to educate themselves about the proposal and its potential impact, and to share their concerns in writing with the relevant authority.

Drama at the launch of the Lake District Foundation

The Lake District Foundation is a new charity with the aim of encouraging both visitors and communities to help care for the landscape, wildlife and heritage of the Lake District National Park. The charity, which builds on the legacy of Nurture Lakeland, was formally launched at a special event on Friday 15 December.

Terry Abraham, the mountain filmmaker who has produced several films about the Lake District (including Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike and Life of a Mountain: Blencathra), was an ambassador for the Lake District Foundation. However, he felt unable to continue in that role given the charity’s neutral stance on the issue of the proposed zipwire. He publicly resigned as ambassador at the Lake District Foundation’s inaugural meeting. A portion of his resignation speech, which lasted for several minutes, was captured on video and is available to view on YouTube.

Terry Abraham’s statement

Terry has released a statement explaining his reasons for resigning as a patron of the charity. Here is the text of his statement in full.

“On Friday 15th December 2017 at the launch of the conservation charity ‘The Lake District Foundation’ (formerly Nurture Lakeland) at Low Wood Bay Hotel, Windermere, I announced my resignation as an ambassador in protest at their decision to remain neutral with regards to the proposed Thirlmere Activity Hub by TreeTop Trek.

I had been told prior to the launch I was not allowed to express an opinion publicly opposing the plans proposed by TreeTop Trek at Thirlmere in association with the charity. I could only do so as an individual. This didn’t feel right for me

“The charity states its aims as ‘promoting the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment and cultural heritage of the Lake District by providing funding and support for conservation, environmental and cultural initiatives in the Lake District and Cumbria’.

“My decision was considered but ultimately impulsive and it saddens me deeply that I felt compelled to speak out. My feelings and emotions as someone who profoundly cares for the Lake District and Cumbria were inevitably overruled by thoughts of a bigger, more important picture which affects the National Park and others around the UK.

“The charity’s trustees includes the National Park Authority, National Trust and Cumbria Tourism. I had been told prior to the launch I was not allowed to express an opinion publicly opposing the plans proposed by TreeTop Trek at Thirlmere in association with the charity. I could only do so as an individual. This didn’t feel right for me both personally and supposedly as an ambassador for a conservation charity. I found this neutral stance to be at extreme odds with what the charity claims to represent. Cumbria Tourism (CT) of course recently publicly backed the plans for the Thirlmere Activity Hub of which the director of TreeTop Trek sits on the executive board which I found most peculiar as CT’s strategy has a long-held convention of neutrality with regards to planning applications.

Thirlmere. Does this look like a suitable place for a zipwire complex to you? If not, make your objection heard!
Shutterstock / PhilMacDPhoto

“TreeTop Trek have revealed in their plans they’ll donate sums to The Lake District Foundation if the eight zipwires over Thirlmere are approved by the National Park Authority. The director of The Lake District Foundation revealed at the launch they’d take money from anyone, anywhere and as much as possible to make the charity a success in the future.

“The argument for the Thirlmere Activity Hub and The Lake District Foundation’s neutral stance goes against everything I feel I stand for and care about in terms of inspiring people to care for the Lake District. The idea the scheme will inspire youth for adventure and appreciate the outdoors I find tenuous at best. The likely admission cost, what’s involved with the zipwires and the potential detrimental effects with regards to conservation markedly conflicts with the role of both the national park authority and the charity; to conserve, enhance and protect.

“People of all ages and backgrounds can go ghyll scrambling, scrambling, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, cycling, fellwalking, skiing and much more besides in Lakeland which are considerably less intrusive than zipwires. These activities offer more benefits for one’s physical and mental health and appreciation for the environment; better still enjoyed with local groups and guides to really get a sense of fun or danger.

Thirlmere stands as a monument to actions of the past and should always act as a reminder to stand up for conservation when under threat no matter how large or small

“A few months ago I was offered a free ride on the longest zipwire in Europe which is also the fastest in the world in North Wales, on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. It resides amongst a working industrial quarry and is an attraction owned by Zip World. I produced a video for social media, shared how much I enjoyed it – it’s fun, I’m not anti-zipwire – but I did make the point it’s in a suitable location and I wouldn’t like to see such an obvious attraction over Thirlmere in the very heart of a national park, especially when it’s just been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“I was then pressured by sources who wish to remain anonymous to delete the video from my social media as Zip World didn’t appreciate the Thirlmere Activity Hub references and some followers’ negative comments about TreeTop Trek. I couldn’t understand why this was happening as I was only stating an opinion and others were only expressing theirs. Despite feeling rather angry at the situation I found myself in, I reluctantly agreed to remove the posts. Some weeks later I discovered that Zip World has connections to TreeTop Trek and just recently ‘Zip World Lakes Ltd’ has been registered as a business at Companies House.

Helvellyn and Ullswater from the air ©Terry Abraham

“We all stand on the shoulders of giants: Wordsworth sowed the seeds of the idea of national parks; Scotsman John Muir emigrated and contributed to the creation of national parks in the US, we in the UK followed suit; the Kinder mass trespass; the roots of the National Trust; Beatrix Potter fought against the industrialists who sought to transform Lakeland for their own needs. Thirlmere ironically is a birthplace of the conservation movement from when it was flooded to become a reservoir. Ullswater England’s most beautiful lake was planned to be a reservoir at one point but thankfully this didn’t succeed.

“Thirlmere stands as a monument to actions of the past and should always act as a reminder to stand up for conservation when under threat no matter how large or small. The audacious plans by TreeTop Trek I feel are better served elsewhere within the Lake District but better still on the outskirts perhaps in West Cumbria – where such an attraction would prove to be genuinely fantastic for the local economy in drawing more visitors to that part of the county and ease the pressures of tourists in Lakeland during peak periods.

“I’ve always sought to inspire and enlighten the public to the beauty and wonderful heritage of the Lake District with my ‘Life of a Mountain’ documentaries which have been seen by millions of viewers on the BBC. The area isn’t a museum of course and will always evolve over time, be it aesthetically or geologically but it is after all a national park; a fact we cannot deny. Millions of visitors come to Cumbria every year and will continue to do so and there’s good reason. Conservation plays a huge part in that and accessibility to admire its delights too.

“On Friday I considered all the above and much more besides. I feel terribly sad that things turned out the way it did. I wrestled with my conscience and decided at the very last minute I couldn’t agree to represent a charity which stands in conflict with not only my own beliefs, integrity and convictions regarding conservation but also has tenuous links and contacts with some groups and possible individuals who in turn have links elsewhere and who I feel do not have the National Park, its people, visitors or the nation’s interests at heart.

“Despite my own feelings and remorse I do hope it encourages the public to scrutinise and hold those in charge accountable for their decision making processes, representation or stances – be it a conservation charity or otherwise when it comes to protecting the Lake District or any other national park.”

Terry Abraham
Independent Outdoors Broadcaster and Photographer, Cumbria
(Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike, Life of a Mountain: Blencathra and Alan Hinkes – The First Briton to Climb the World’s Highest Mountains)

Header image: Terry Abraham © Phil Rigby