Delegates from around the world gathered in the Lake District for the launch of the University of Cumbria’s Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas.
More than 120 people ranging from international academics, environmentalists, lobby groups and representatives from sectors including tourism and farming gathered at the university’s Ambleside campus to hear a host of world-class speakers set out their views on the opportunities and challenges facing some of the world’s best known protected areas.
Among them were Professor Michael Soule of the University of California, a globally renowned conservation biologist, who spoke of the unconventional approaches to saving nature known as 'guerrilla conservation'.
Dr Steve Curl, chair of the National Parks Partnership, used the launch on Monday (September 11) to promote the contribution the private sector makes to national parks and outline his hope that discussions in the Lake District, specifically around partnership working, would bring benefits for all 15 national parks.
The Centre’s new director Prof Ian Convery said the conference had highlighted the need to achieve balance between nature and culture as world heritage site status will elevate the position of the Lake District internationally, boosting tourism and benefitting local communities and businesses.
He said: “There are without doubt complex issues to be tackled and we need innovative approaches to protecting habitats whilst recognising the needs of those who visit and enjoy the area.
“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.”
Along with existing research work carried out at the university, membership of the World Conservation Union Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN WCPA), will give access to a network of protected area expertise, with over 2,400 members, spanning 140 countries.
This membership will enable the centre to call on valuable research already completed which may also spark fresh studies based in Cumbria.
“The university is well-placed to draw together partners in a neutral, open and constructive way,” Pro Vice Chancellor Sandra Booth told a packed inaugural meeting.
“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.
“As part of the Lake District Partnership and as the only university in the country to have a base in a national park and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 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.”