Talk to any Cumbrian farmer about the World Heritage bid and opinions are generally scarce, never mind positive.

Among the farming community, awareness of the bid to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and its potential benefits is low. But now is the time for the agricultural industry to step up and vocally back it, say industry bosses.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has, up until now, taken a cautionary approach to supporting the bid outright, with many farmers unsure how it would impact on farming in the Lakes.

But discussions have put forward a case that World Heritage status could be used to help attract a price premium for local produce.

It could also lead to more local food being sold to the millions of tourists who visit the area.

For more than 1,000 years, farming has shaped the Lake District landscape.

Bosses at the Lake District National Park (LDNP) say this rich farming heritage is key to the World Heritage bid, and Unesco officials are keen that farmers are integral to the bid.

“They don’t want plastic shepherds and sheepdogs,” said David Hall, NFU north-west regional director.

Unesco representatives recently visited the Lakes and met Herdwick sheep farmers, James Rebanks and Will Rawling as well as the Federation of Cumbria Commoners.

They were impressed with the bid and the way it highlights shepherds’ meets, local dialect, traditional shows and indigenous sheep breeds.

The bid also places emphasis on the distinctive approach to farming common land, the area’s small in-bye and intake fields, and its centuries-old dry stone walls.

Steve Ratcliffe, LDNP director of sustainable development, said: “A lot of work has been done to identify the potential benefits to Cumbria in securing World Heritage status. The clear message of this work is that a World Heritage site is ‘what you make of it’. There are no cash prizes for recognition, but being ranked alongside an international A-list of leading sites would have a positive economic and social impact.

Steve Ratcliffe “The first and immediate benefit is a recognition and celebration of the role of farming in making the Lake District what it is today. It also captures and documents key aspects of farming, from native breeds to customary practice, that can be a reference for all decision-makers and land managers in the future.”

Mr Ratcliffe said the Government had signed a convention to protect all World Heritage sites, and had pledged to provide adequate resources for their protection.

“At a time when funding for rural England and farming is under significant pressure, the Government and its agencies would consequently find it harder to ignore funding appeals from an area with World Heritage status.

“Indeed, the nomination has already been successfully used to support funding proposals to central Government.”

Lakes sheep farmer and chairman of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, Will Rawling, said he believed the bid does, at last, reflect the huge benefit of commercial farming to the LDNP.

“The cultural heritage, on which the bid is based, needs the people on the ground to make it real. The tourists who flock to the Lakes come to see a working, ever-evolving landscape producing high-quality food and environmental management,” he added.

“The sheep and cattle alongside those who looked after them made the area what it is and they continue to keep it looking the way that it does. This bid needs farmers. We should all support it.”

World Heritage bid logo The bid was submitted by the Lake District National Park Partnership, the group of 25 organisations who collectively help manage the park. The partnership wants to ensure food and farming in Cumbria benefits.

Lake District tourism also stands to benefit from World Heritage inscription, say LDNP bosses. However, they point out that this doesn’t mean a huge increase in the numbers of visitors.

A study carried out indicates international visitors who come to World Heritage sites tend to stay longer and spend more money, and it is this change in visitor profile that the LDNP is seeking.

To find out more about the bid and to add your support, visit