The Lake District in a Post-COVID-19 World

COVID-19 has changed some ordinary but essential things usually taken for granted. Firstly, it imposed “social distancing”, which severely curtailed physical contact among people in public and private lives, while travelling to the nearest site of interest becomes risky. Various measures have been taken to prevent disease transmission: face masks and sanitation products have become parts of our everyday lives. Many countries have experienced lockdown (in different forms) to stop people from going out in the streets. Also, everything has become virtual: art performances, exhibitions, and shopping. Education has been disrupted at almost every stage, turning into “online classes”, while non-essential businesses closed and a significant amount of the population lost their jobs.

Working from home, socialising close to home to avoid travel in crowded vehicles is preferred and has become mandatory in certain circumstances. The pandemic has also exacerbated some existing problems, such as various inequalities across identities (class, race, gender).  Protests have taken place in different cities worldwide against various measures taken to tackle the pandemic. As expressed in the Guardian, green spaces and parks have gained more importance during this time due to their provision of open space to prevent the pandemic (Moore, 2020).

During the pandemic, cities have received the most public and academic attention due to their density, size and role in the economy. However, the countryside did not, despite experiencing their own issues related to the pandemic, such as insufficiency of services, particularly health and the flock of “covidiots” escaping from cities to the countryside, which was perceived as healthier and safer. [1]  The pandemic has also deepened the urban/rural divide in which the rural becomes a landscape to be exploited and invaded by urban inhabitants. In this blog piece, I will discuss the Lake District in a post-COVID-19 world regarding staycationers and further construction and commercialisation of the area.

Staycationers: A New Visitor Profile

Before COVID-19, the Lake District was one of the most popular destinations of the UK, attracting millions of national and international tourists. However, during the lockdown, it became a forbidden area to visitors to avoid putting more pressure on already insufficient health services and making local people, particularly older ones, more vulnerable to the disease, often enforced by a police presence (Burchardt). [2]   Some farmers also declared that they did not want visitors who come to the Lakes to avoid the spread of the disease and prevent their sheep being disturbed during the lambing season. [3]   

The centre of Keswick was empty of any form of life, Easter Monday 2020 (taken from https://www.visitcumbria.com/coronavirus-cumbria-lake-district/)

During the summer months of 2020, when the lockdown was relieved, the Lake District became more populated, while facilities, B&Bs, cafes, restaurants re-opened. However, everything operated under the “new normal”, referring to the implication of new rules for visitors of the Lake District (and similar places) to avoid disease transmission. According to the Guardian, the number of visitors in the Lake District has reached pre-pandemic levels.  While international tourists are absent, British tourists have replaced them, although it is too early to tell if they will spend as much as the foreigners.[4]

This increasing interest in the countryside might depend on several factors: firstly, since travelling abroad seems risky and difficult, British people become “staycationers” in the UK. Secondly, the countryside and national parks are seen as cleaner and healthier than cities.

The Lake District now receives a new group of visitors who have rarely been to the countryside, which has been widely reported in the media. [5]  However local people complained about the mess left by these visitors, who were perceived to be “unfit” to visit the Lakes [6], possibly lacking the sufficient cultural codes, such as appropriate attitudes and behaviours for the countryside as a result of their age or cultural capital. 

In the near future, in the case of restrictions on international travel, people will prefer to “staycate” which could compensate for the reduction of overseas visitors to the Lakes.  This could change the profile of visitors and subsequently the facilities and activities catering for this new profile which would shift the cultural and natural heritage of the area.

Sustainable tourism should be prioritised in the area.  At the moment, there is a focus on increasing the number of visitors.  As Lloyd, Gere, Stainer and Convery explained in their blog, a continuously growing number of visitors to the area is unsustainable for the environment. [7]     

As part of this public transport should be encouraged and improved with increased frequency to reduce care dependency and overcrowding.  Currently, there is a move to reduce the number of daily and weekly services, particularly in isolated parts of the county and in the low season (winter), affecting people without cars and less money, dependent on public transportation.

Alternative forms of mobility to and across the region should be encouraged, such as train and car-sharing. The sea and rivers can be used where it is appropriate. The use of the sea would also support the industries across West Cumbria, a region that needs economic and social stimulus. Also, across the region, travelling by smaller vehicles such as bicycles, motorbikes, scooters, and horses can help people.

The Lake District should also offer a more balanced use of the virtual and physical realms. The facilities (such as museums, art galleries, cinemas and theatres) should provide a virtual experience for those who cannot be there. Shops (bakeries, arts crafts) that sell local produce should have online delivery options for people who cannot buy them/ be there individually. Charity shops, bookstores and antique shops should also transform their businesses into a pandemic-friendly way.

Further Commercialisation of the Lake District

The Lake District already faces pressure from the newcomers moving into the area from cities (retired or service workers) who change the area’s demographics, economy, and culture. This change would lead to various tensions between the locals and the newcomers, a process defined as “rural gentrification” in various forms in different geographies (Philips and Smith, 2018).

Barn conversions, second homes, new housing complexes, and shopping malls target the newcomers. The changing demographics also change the local economy: while locals leave the area which has become too expensive for them, other locals open businesses targeting the newcomers. Also, traditional businesses could be closed (or change ownership). The newcomers also establish new small-scale businesses (B&Bs, cafes, arts & crafts). An article published in the Guardian around seven years ago, raised the same questions, which demonstrates that the rural gentrification has already been an issue of the area.[8]

Of course, not all retired newcomers are rich enough to change everything in the Lake District. Also, not all newcomers want to live in a renovated old building with character. However, if an area receives more people than it can handle, this can create various problems.

The Lake District faces further challenges such as:

  • The introduction of zip wires
  • The use of 4x4s in fells for outdoor recreation
  • Inappropriate renovations of the old built environment
  • Pylons and wind farms, and nuclear complexes.

After COVID-19, access and proximity to green space and clean air will become priorities for people. In this context, more and more people will prefer to live in the countryside due to the demand for a greener, safer and less-dense way of life and also to improve the work-life balance. [9]   

The county of Cumbria, where the Lake District is located, is expected to receive an increased interest due to the relatively affordable property prices and its environmental assets (nice houses with character, clean air, less dense, green and proximity to the Lake District). [10]  This could increase the number of investments in housing and related facilities and property prices, affecting the environment and wildlife.  As a result, the area might become more urbanised (physically, demographically and culturally), attract more commercial activity and lose its wildlife. [11] It also may accelerate rural gentrification in the area, with the area becoming more vulnerable due to the declining agricultural and farming sectors, which have been continuously vilified by various actors. These sectors would be replaced by the newcomers’ businesses or simply, close down. Once the region loses its ability to produce food, its people will be dependent on imported produce and income from other industries/sources. In the end, the area could be transformed into a monoculture where the only viable economic sector would be tourism. [12]

In summary, after COVID-19, the Lake District should address the following issues: 

  • New profile of visitors and provision of appropriate facilities
  • New measures for visitors and locals
  • New ways of doing business (online)
  • Increasing pressure from potential home buyers
  • Increasing construction
  • Increasing damage to the environment and wildlife
Sign indicating that the Lake District is a forbidden zone (taken from https://www.visitcumbria.com/coronavirus-cumbria-lake-district/).

[1]   “Lake District closed for first time in history because covidiots won’t stay away during pandemic”. https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/27/lake-district-closed-first-time-history-covidiots-wont-stay-away-pandemic-12465352/

[2]  Unlockdown?, Landscape Exchange (LEX),  https://lex.landscaperesearch.org/content/unlockdown/

[3] Coronavirus: Lake District farmers urge public to remain at home https://www.farminguk.com/news/coronavirus-lake-district-farmers-urge-public-to-remain-at-home_55329.html

[4] Tale of two recoveries: business rallies in Windermere but slows in Crawley. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/aug/12/windermere-business-booms-as-britons-holiday-in-lake-district

[5] Coronavirus: Lake District visitors pose ‘significant problems’ https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-Glcumbria-52889903

[6]  Coronavirus: Crowds and litter in Cumbria’ like a mini Glastonbury’ https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-cumbria-52909467

[7] https://www.gold.ac.uk/goldsmiths-press/features/covid-19-and-reimagining-the-lake-district/

[8]  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jul/09/lake-district-homeowners-local-residents

[9]  Housing market booms since the UK lockdown  https://www.in-cumbria.com/news/18668345.housing-market-booms-since-uk-lockdown/

[10]  The 10 most secluded countryside homes for sale in Cumbria as agents predict increase in demand https://www.lancs.live/news/local-news/10-most-secluded-countryside-homes-18592884

[11]  For a discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 on the countryside, please see Mark Rowe’s “What impact has lockdown had on the countryside?” published in Countryfile (2020).

[12]  For a more general outcome of the pandemic on rural economies please see Phillipson et al.’s “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Implications for Rural Economies” (2020). This paper provides a detailed insight into the effects of the COVID-19 on rural economies, communities, health, education, etc.


References

Burchardt, J. Unlockdown?, Landscape Exchange (LEX) https://lex.landscaperesearch.org/content/unlockdown/

Lloyd, K. Gere, C., Stainer, S., Convery, I. (2020) Covid-19 and Reimagining the Lake District https://www.gold.ac.uk/goldsmiths-press/features/covid-19-and-reimagining-the-lake-district/

Moore, R. (2020) Will Covid-19 show us how to design better cities?, The  Observer, Communities, 24 May 2020.  https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/24/will-covid-19-show-us-how-to-design-better-cities

Philips, M. and Smith, D. (2018) Comparative approaches to gentrification: Lessons from the Rural, Dialogues in Human Geography, 8 (1), pp.  3-25.

Phillipson, J., et al. (2020) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Implications for Rural Economies, Sustainability, 12 (10), 3973. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/10/3973/htm

Rowe, M. (2020) What impact has lockdown had on the countryside?, Countryfile: Magazine Explore British Countryside. https://www.countryfile.com/news/what-impact-has-lockdown-had-on-the-countryside

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