Cumbria's key role at centre of global nature versus culture debate

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A new University of Cumbria centre has enjoyed a solid start in its mission to become a global asset.

More than 120 delegates from international, national and regional organisations attended the launch of the institution's Centre for National parks and Protected Areas.

And it's hoped that the large turnout points to the wide-scale significance of the work being launched to tackle the challenges of balancing the demands of culture and nature.

Delegates at the Ambleside campus launch included those from the worlds of tourism and farming, along with environmentalists and representatives of lobby groups.

We are ideally placed to be the go-to location for vision, expertise and insight into sustainable development within thriving visitor economies

They heard from world-renowned speakers who set out their views on the opportunities and challenges facing some of the world’s best known protected areas.

Among them was renowned conservation biologist Professor Michael Soule, from the University of California

He spoke of the often unconventional approaches adopted to saving nature - so-called 'guerrilla conservation'.

Meanwhile, National Parks Partnership chairman Dr Steve Curl highlighted the contribution the private sector makes to national parks and his hope that discussions in the Lake District, specifically around partnership working, would bring benefits for all 15 national parks in the UK.

The launch of the centre is timely in the wake of the Lake District being handed World Heritage Status by the United Nations.

Its director, Professor Ian Convery, believes that decision will elevate the region's standing internationally, boosting tourism and bringing benefits for communities sitting inside the park.

He told delegates: "There are without doubt complex issues to be tackled and we need innovative approaches to protecting habitats while recognising the needs of those who visit and enjoy the area."

One of the schemes being used to pursue success - and ensure spin-offs for those living and working in the area - is aimed at revitalising wildlife and habitats around Morecambe Bay, using money secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Prof Convery added: "Our vision is to for the centre to be an international and national centre of excellence for the trans-disciplinary study of national park and protected area management – developing sustainable solutions to global challenges.”

University pro vice-chancellor Sandra Booth is also optimistic about the impact that the centre could have on the county.

She said: "The university is well-placed to draw together partners in a neutral, open and constructive way.

"With 14 years’ experience of actively carrying out research, our aim is to develop the role of the university as ‘the University for the National Park and Stakeholders’.

"A key focus for the immediate future is the development of programmes to support the cultural and rural, visitor economy."

Being part of the Lake District Partnership and having two world heritage sites on its patch - the other being Hadrian's Wall - is a huge asset for the centre.

"We are ideally placed to be the go-to location for vision, expertise and insight into sustainable development within thriving visitor economies with international reach and relevance," she added.

Along with existing research work carried out at the university, its membership of the World Conservation Union Commission on Protected Areas, will give access to a network of protected area expertise, with over 2,400 members, spanning 140 countries.

This will allow the centre to call upon other international research and could lead to new studies in Cumbria.

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