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We originally chose the Lake District as the case study for the Uncertainty theme because it is a candidate World Heritage Site. We wanted to see what future making practices were involved in the process of World Heritage accreditation, and how those practices would produce new futures and perpetuate existing ones. The Lake District has been nominated as a World Heritage Site twice before, once as a cultural heritage site, then as a natural heritage site. The site was deemed to have too much nature to be cultural and too much culture to be natural. This was one of the things that led to the new World Heritage Site category ‘Cultural Landscape’

The cultural landscape that the Lakes is being nominated for has been established through fell sheep herding. The management of the fells as commonage for sheep has determined many other aspects of landscape development from ownership to drainage. This, in turn, has inspired artists and writers to celebrate a ‘shepherds’ republic’ that responds to that landscape. Early heritage campaigner, Beatrix Potter, specified that native Herdwick sheep should be kept on the substantial tracts of land that she left to the National Trust. The World Heritage nomination recognises the importance of this landscape, and would support the continuation of the management practices that underpin it.

This complex interplay of nature and culture is one of the things we’re interested in Heritage Futures and links nicely with Transformation and Diversity. It is also at the heart of some opposing futures in the Lake District

Hero? Or Villain? Either way sheep are key to Futures in the Lake District

But not everyone supports this future. Management of the fells for sheep requires substantial intervention. The rewilding movement, also studied by the Transformation theme, works to see less human intervention in landscape. One of the high profile proponents of the movement, George Monbiot, has described the Lakes as ‘sheepwrecked’ and referred to them as “the most depressing landscape in Europe”. Though see this for a robust repost.

There’s another future to be found on the coastal fringes of the district. Sometimes called ‘The Western Lakes’ and sometimes called ‘Britain’s Energy Coast’ this area has a series of small towns that service some very high profile industries. The biggest employer in the region is Sellafield Nuclear Site; he first nuclear power station in the world and one of the most complex problems for decommissioning and management of nuclear waste. The location of the site, and the expertise of those who work there, make the siting of a final repository for nuclear waste seem attractive to planners. But local resistance has required a rethink and only low level waste is to be managed here long term.

My fieldwork is with the people who are managing and living in this landscape, building and juggling these diverse futures. Mostly they work for the present, or the immediate future. But their practices are underpinned by these bigger futures.

In some ways these deep futures call the sublime, the sense of awe and the excitement of the uncertainty. The sublime has its own history in the Lake District, linked with romanticism through the Wordsworths. Can the future sublime enliven daily management practice?

Nuclear Waste Repository? Republic of Shepherds? Or Most Depressing Landscape in Europe?