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Challenging the Challengers
Challenging the challengers….
Picture the scene. It’s a warm sunny, summer’s morning in the stunning Lake District National Park (ok, so use your imagination). Thousands of lycra-attired, athletic types, numbers pinned to their chests are limbering up for 10 mile trail-run up over the high fells. There’s a party atmosphere in and around the registration tent, music and laughter in the air.
Fast forward a few months, autumn is creeping in, the skies are dark and the rain is pummelling the upland crags (now that’s more like it). But, in one part of the Park, hundreds of gore-tex covered mountain bikers are braving the weather because they can’t resist a challenge. In another, legions of neoprene-clad swimmers are getting ready to douse themselves in the chilly waters of Windermere for the privilege of swimming a mile to beat their personal best whilst raising lots of money for good causes to boot. From nearby marquees, the tantalising smell of bacon rolls and cardboard cups of coffee comfort the families and friends who have come to cheer them on.
They’re familiar pictures aren’t they? I bet you’ve probably been one of those sweating or shivering people, making the most of the amazing array of adventurous activities on offer throughout the year in England’s largest National Park. (Or maybe you were wrapped up warm and cheering from the side-lines!) But imagine those same frames being repeated hundreds of times over, season after season, year after year. It’s inevitable that so much concentrated activity in such a small geographical area is going to have an impact on both the environment and the communities who host these events.
With a stunning background of internationally celebrated scenery, there’s no doubt the Lake District and Cumbrian landscapes offer a wealth of opportunity for people to get active and connect with the outstanding natural environment. It’s a real adventure playground. That’s why it’s a top choice for challenge event organisers. But, for those involved in managing the Park and surrounding countryside, this presents a challenge in itself. It’s about finding a balance between protecting environmentally sensitive landscapes and wildlife, helping support the economic and social sustainability of the area and encouraging people to use the spectacular qualities of the National Park and Cumbria for recreation, fun, health and well-being. Huge numbers of feet (and wheels) pounding our hills and valleys can lead to trampling, loss of vegetation, erosion, sedimentation in lakes, loss of species biodiversity, and disturbance to wildlife. And large numbers of people descending all at once on small village locations with limited infrastructure can cause congestion and difficulties for locals and other visitors.
Luckily, here at Nurture Lakeland we’re busy working on a timely piece of work, to help those who organise and run these events think about how they can manage, reduce or mitigate their impacts to play their part in helping keep the Lake District as a wonderful, living resource for everyone to continue to enjoy.
Working with an advisory group of experts from partner organisations such as the National Trust, Lake District National Park, Environment Agency, Cumbria Tourism, University of Cumbria and Friends of the Lake District, we’re producing a new ‘best practice toolkit’ for outdoor recreational event organisers. The new guide will focus event organisers thinking and ‘signpost’ them to the most useful and relevant information available to help them run a sustainable organised recreational event in the Lake District National Park and wider Cumbrian countryside. It’s also part of a wider initiative called Windermere Reflections, a Heritage Lottery Funded 3 year programme which will work with the whole community (locals and visitors) to encourage positive action for the Windermere catchment www.windermere-reflections.org.uk
Good planning and management can lead to successful and sustainable events where everyone (from organisers, participants and spectators to local businesses, residents and land managers) gets maximum benefit and enjoyment whilst minimising negative impacts. And that’s got to be a good thing. The guide will be available next month with a fun and informative launch event taking place at Brockhole, the Lake District National Park Visitor Centre - just in time for you to don you’re favourite running pants, cycling shorts or comfy wetsuit. Get out there. Enjoy the mountains, lakes and valleys. Enjoy the challenge and do your bit to keep the landscape as a stunning backdrop to your adventurous spirit.