The Lake District is failing to attract enough young and black, Asian and minority ethnic visitors, its chief executive has warned as he insisted it needs to aim for greater diversity to justify public funding.
Richard Leafe, the head of the Lake District National Park Authority, told Sky News that the Unesco World Heritage site may “lose its relevance” if it becomes “exclusive to one single use group”.
Leafe said: “We are deficient in terms of young people, we are deficient in terms of black and minority ethnic communities and we are not particularly well-visited by those who are less able in terms of their mobility.
“Our challenge is to see what we can do to reverse that, to encourage people from broader backgrounds and a wider range of personal mobilities into the national park to be able to benefit in the same way as those other groups do.”
He added: “We need to be able to sell the national park to everybody in Britain, all society, and it’s important that it doesn’t just become exclusive to one single use group.
“The moment we get into that position I think national parks start to lose their relevance and therefore the very reason for calling it a national park and spending public money.”
A government-commissioned report into the future of Britain’s protected landscapes, published in September, criticised national parks for not doing enough to make people welcome.
The author, writer Julian Glover, described them as an “exclusive, mainly white, mainly middle‐class club, with rules only members understand and much too little done to encourage first-time visitors”.
The Lake District, where the rugged hills inspired the romantic poets and author Beatrix Potter, attracts 15.8 million visitors to the north west of England each year.
Leafe’s comments come as the park meets resistance to attempts to make it more inclusive.
The authority is facing a High Court judicial review in the new year about its refusal to ban four-wheel drive vehicles from some fell trails, while Keswick Town Council has passed a vote of no confidence over the creation of a tarmac path through woodland.
Paul Titley, a businessman who retired to the Lake District and who is now Keswick’s deputy mayor, told Sky News visitors should accept the environment as it is or go elsewhere.
“We have a phenomenal selection of outdoor clothing shops here for a reason - come and buy them, come and put them on and get yourself out in the hills,” he said.
“If you get wet it won’t hurt you, if you get cold put something else on.”