Green, but not green enough?

As one of the largest areas of outstanding natural beauty in the country, the Lake District is green, but is it green enough? The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) work with local businesses to invest in the sustainability of the National Park, with the aim to reduce carbon emissions, and prevent the effects of climate change harming the environment.

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With plans unveiled by the National Trust and the LDNPA, The Lake District will be “nursed back to health”.  Reports by independent researchers found a surprisingly high number of carbon emissions produced in the area, with habitats destroyed due to intense farming and extreme weather conditions. Both of the organisations pledge to look after the natural environment, reduce carbon emissions, and revive the decline in wildlife in Cumbria.

It has been reported that 60% of species have declined in the last 50 years and new approaches are necessary to reconnect habitats to prevent local wildlife from extinction. Part of the new plans are aimed at developing land for farming, protecting greenbelts for businesses and local communities, use more renewable sources of energy and improve the water quality in some lakes.

According to the findings of the report by independent researcher Rebecca Willis, the biggest source of emissions (41%) is from vehicular movement across the Lake District. This is not surprising, as it attracts around 16 million people every year, in addition to the 41,000 people who live in the National Park.  As a result, the LDNPA have invested in more sustainable transport networks to reduce car dependence.

Catbells_Northern_Ascent,_Lake_District_-_June_2009
(Photo: Wikimedia)

Willis is head of the projects at LDNPA, and conducted the research for the reports believes visitors and residents should be able to see and experience new things. When the carbon budget was set up, the LDNPA wanted the schemes to be visible. Rebecca says: “The Go Lakes travel project is definitely visible, because it is about promoting ways of exploring the National Park without using cars, so people will be more likely to use the electric bikes, trains and buses and boat buses, because of the marketing we have done for the travel project.”

People will also see local businesses involved in promoting local produce from the breweries and farms— with 36 breweries within the National Park it seems that the Climate Change Act has led to better beer drinking, and sourcing food locally. Rebecca says: “Looking at it from a carbon saving perspective, it is really efficient to brew beer locally, because it saves on distribution costs across the country. It makes environmental sense, but it is also nice to say that this beer is brewed around the corner, and it is good for the local economy.”

Following the government’s Climate Change Act 2008, national carbon targets have been set by the government to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050.” The LDNPA’s report goes even further by measuring carbon emissions in the Lake District each year, and working with businesses and local people to help to reduce emissions, and ultimately contribute towards the national carbon budget.

The National Trust plan to spend £1bn over a period of 10 years to breathe new life into the countryside; pledging to cut their energy usage by 20% by 2020, sourcing 50% from renewable energy on land. As yet, The National Trust have not set out detailed plans as to how they intend to spend the money, however, a spokesperson has said the focus will be on farming and the effects of climate change because it “poses one of the biggest threats to the countryside and natural environment”, and unsustainable land management has caused damage to the landscape.

In 2013 it was estimated the UK produced nearly 570 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.

The Lake District contributes 2.3 million tonnes to the UK’s annual emissions. As part of the initiative, renewable energy supplies such as local wind farms, hydro power, and biomass will contribute to electricity supplies for local homes and businesses. This will not only cut carbon emissions, it will cut energy costs for local people and also supply the National Grid. One business in particular took advantage of its location at the top of Kirkstone Pass to use the energy generated from wind turbines to power the pub.

Rebecca says: “The turbines at Kirkstone Pass were interesting because ultimately, we have to get energy from somewhere, and in this case, the pub was spending huge amounts of money on diesel for the generators it was using, and having to cart it up the hill.”

But, encouraging renewable energy projects can be controversial. Not everyone likes wind turbines and solar panels perceiving them to be a “blot on the landscape”. Looking back, in 2006 plans were dismissed for a large wind farm near Kendal.  The campaigners said it would destroy the landscape. Ironically, now there are renewable energy schemes in place with more to follow. You do not need to look far across the landscape to see homes with solar panels on the roofs, and small turbine on top of a hill. So what is the difference between renewable energy sources planted on the landscape to power a number of homes and a renewable energy source planted in your garden or on your roof?

The Kirkstone pass turbines caused a stir of objections, but Rebecca says: “Diesel generators do not look or sound very nice either, so I think people should think about the functionality of where energy comes from.

“In this case, how could this remote pub that is not on the grid get its energy and continue to be a viable business.  Although aesthetics are important for wind turbines [built on the landscape], I would encourage people to look at all aspects of the energy sources before they decide whether it should or should not be there. We have already seen a lot of renewable energy schemes which fit into the landscape and make it look modern, and still a beautiful place to be.”

Equally, the Langdale estate have several renewable energy projects which significantly contribute to their energy bills over the year, and they say it is good for business too.

Nick Lancaster who oversees the environmental schemes says: “At Langdale we consume about 7 million KW (kilowatts) of energy. We have made more gains for the heat sources by using two biomass units which generate about 500KW of heat per year which is a huge contribution to our business. All together it saves us about £30,000 a year on our gas bill so it is a positive investment.”

But the gains don’t stop there, Langdale also invested in hydropower; “we have a newly designed waterwheel which generates about 50,000KW of electricity which is roughly about the same as 20 domestic properties” says Nick. “You only have to go outside and look at the fells to understand why it is important.” He smiles. “Our business is completely dependent on the environment, so we need to look after it; why else would you come to the Lake District?”

Working towards the vision for 2020 (when renewable energy will make up 15% of UK energy supply) requires funding, and funding for projects like this appears to have been cut short by central government.

A report by the BBC in March 2015, said “solar energy could provide 4% of UK electricity by 2020” if the government continue to provide subsidiaries to build farms, and in around five years’ time solar energy could compete with fossil fuels in the UK.

Locally, this means resident wind and solar farms will provide energy for the surrounding areas. Decisions are pending for a solar farm in Workington, with the potential to generate enough energy to supply 1,200 homes in Cumbria. A few miles along the coast in Heysham, there are plans for a solar farm to develop brownfield land and supply the local area.

So far the North-West and Cumbria has done their fair share for the national carbon budget and the 2020 vision. United Utilities see Cumbria as “a major part of Britain’s Energy Coast vision, including low carbon energy”. So perhaps the coalition were right in planning to devolve powers to a Northern Powerhouse; as it could be the key to securing funding to reach these targets instead of Cumbria County Council selling assets (such as Stickle Tarn), and the LDNPA selling parts of the National Park to raise funds.

Rebecca says most of the funding for the carbon budget comes from local sources: “I think central government should give local areas the responsibility of local carbon budgets and the means to achieve it. So maybe, direct funding, devolving powers, or letting local areas raise funds.”

“The experience has been really positive for the Lake District, the downside is that you have to get the funding for something that isn’t a direct statuary responsibility: like promoting renewable energy, improving travel options for residents, and helping businesses become more energy efficient. But, they have all had really strong benefits way above the carbon saving.”

So what does it mean if the Lake District is becoming more sustainable? Well, sustainability is looking at how productive systems are so that they can continue running for longer. It is about investing for the future, so that the systems remain productive, 30 or 40 years down the line.

Sustainability exists in many areas all over the National Park already, with businesses that have evolved over time, and products like beer that has been brewed over decades. It is also about new ideas and how to implement them to save resources and energy… like the manifesto of Langdale. Nick says:

“We don’t try to portray ourselves as a green hotel, it’s about coming to stay here because it is a fantastic place, surrounded by a beautiful environment. When you are here, we will then try and engage you as to what is good and what isn’t. For example, in our bathrooms we have soap with a hole in it. The argument is that the part of the soap that always gets left or thrown away is the middle—so without a middle it reduces waste, and saves on resources.

“Another way is to have pencils in the rooms instead of pens. Pens get thrown away when they stop working, while pencils are sharpened and reused… the idea with both of these is to engage our guests about sustainability and promote their thinking.”

Sustainability comes with time. Something brand new cannot immediately be labelled as sustainable because it has not been productive over a long period of time.

Langdale’s focus is about the sustainability of the business, and how they engage with local environmental issues… like Fix the Fells and Fix the Footpaths schemes. The company helped to establish the Tourism Conservation Partnership which raised funds to help repair footpaths. Nick says: “It started as one person being paid to repair the footpaths, which we supported, and then it became part of a much bigger project by the National Trust and the National Park. So we have had a long history of sustainability.”

He adds: “But overall it is about how we can manage our carbon footprint as best we can. Because the spinoff for being a successful business means that we can organise the local road races, look after the local public toilets have a much wider impact on the community. There is a balance with being a luxury brand and a business, and trying to save the planet.”

Visitors to the Lake District may have already seen some of these schemes in place. Rebecca says: “They may be lucky enough to stay in some of the hotels that have done a lot of work on improving the environmental performance of the buildings. Like the Langdale Hotel and Spa, when people go there they see the electric cars, and the wood chip boiler, and they see a different way of doing things and the response is really positive.” All these schemes are noticeable for visitors, and it should enhance their holiday by drinking local beer and eating local food… but what about residents?

A report published in June 2014 revealed the National Park managed to save 19,000 tonnes of CO2 by using renewable energy sources. 4,000 tonnes of CO2 through advice and support to local businesses and local people and 1,500 tonnes of CO2 from the Go Lakes travel project. As well as other contributions, the total came to approximately 45,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide saved from the 2.3 million tonnes produced in the National Park every year. The results show that local people are having a positive effect on the carbon budget, but with more contributions numbers can be reduced year on year, and the National Park becomes greener.

Already, there are a lot of residents and businesses involved from sourcing products locally, using public transport, or installing solar panels on roofs. Yet, there is still a majority who do not know about the local carbon budget. One way to get involved is to buy shares in renewable energy…

In Ulverston, the community owns one of its four wind turbines. By investing in the project, residents can see their energy bills reduce and benefit from the renewable energy surrounding them.  With more turbines, more people can invest and see the changes.

So whether it is encouraging a new habitat for wildlife in your garden, using a wood burner instead of finite resources, or buying beer locally small changes can make a big difference to what this area of outstanding beauty will look like in 2030.

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