Film-maker Terry Abraham. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Film-maker Terry Abraham. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Film-maker Terry Abraham very publicly resigned as ambassador of the newly rebranded Lake District Foundation on Friday at the event being staged to mark its rebirth.

The foundation was formerly known as Nurture Lakeland, and its function is to raise cash for conservation projects in the national park.

Abraham, who has produced film portraits of Lake District mountains Scafell Pike and Blencathra, along with a biographical offering on mountaineer Alan Hinkes, and who recently moved to Cumbria, said he was unable to continue in the role given the neutral stance taken by The Lake District Foundation towards the proposed activity hub at Thirlmere.

Treetop Trek, which runs a high-wires adventure site near Windermere which has a short zipwire, has applied to national park planners to build twin four-line zipwires across the reservoir and the main A591 Lakes road.

Mr Abraham today released a statement further expanding his reasons for resigning as patron of the charity.

He said: “On Friday 15 December at the launch of the conservation charity The Lake District Foundation – formerly Nurture Lakeland – at Low Wood Bay Hotel, Windermere, I announced my resignation as an ambassador in protest at their decision to remain neutral with regards to the proposed Thirlmere activity hub by Treetop Trek.

“The charity states its aims as ‘promoting the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment and cultural heritage of the Lake District by providing funding and support for conservation, environmental and cultural initiatives in the Lake District and Cumbria’.

“My decision was considered but ultimately impulsive and it saddens me deeply that I felt compelled to speak out. My feelings and emotions as someone who profoundly cares for the Lake District and Cumbria were inevitably overruled by thoughts of a bigger, more important picture which affects the national park and others around the UK.

“The charity’s trustees include the national park authority, National Trust and Cumbria Tourism. I had been told prior to the launch I was not allowed to express an opinion publicly opposing the plans proposed by Treetop Trek at Thirlmere in association with the charity. I could only do so as an individual.

“This didn’t feel right for me both personally and supposedly as an ambassador for a conservation charity. I found this neutral stance to be at extreme odds with what the charity claims to represent.

Thirlmere, site of the battle over the planned zipwires. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Thirlmere, site of the battle over the planned zipwires. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

“Cumbria Tourism of course recently publicly backed the plans for the Thirlmere activity hub of which the director of Treetop Trek sits on the executive board which I found most peculiar as CT’s strategy has a long held convention of neutrality with regards to planning applications.

“Treetop Trek have revealed in their plans they’ll donate sums to The Lake District Foundation if the eight zipwires over Thirlmere are approved by the national park authority. “The director of The Lake District Foundation revealed at the launch they’d take money from anyone, anywhere and as much as possible to make the charity a success in the future.

“The argument for the Thirlmere activity hub and The Lake District Foundation’s neutral stance goes against everything I feel I stand for and care about in terms of inspiring people to care for the Lake District.

“The idea the scheme will inspire youth for adventure and appreciate the outdoors I find tenuous at best. The likely admission cost, what’s involved with the zipwires and the potential detrimental effects with regards to conservation markedly conflicts with the role of both the national park authority and the charity: to conserve, enhance and protect.

“People of all ages and backgrounds can go gill scrambling, scrambling, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, cycling, fellwalking, skiing and much more besides in Lakeland which are considerably less intrusive than zipwires. These activities offer more benefits for one’s physical and mental health and appreciation for the environment; better still enjoyed with local groups and guides to really get a sense of fun or danger.”

Mr Abraham, whose film portraits of the Lakeland fells have been screened on BBC, explained he was not against zipwires but that they needed to be sited appropriately.

“A few months ago I was offered a free ride on the longest zipwire in Europe which is also the fastest in the world in north Wales, on the edge of the Snowdonia national park.

“It resides among a working industrial quarry and is an attraction owned by Zip World. I produced a video for social media, shared how much I enjoyed it. It’s fun; I’m not anti-zipwire, but I did make the point it’s in a suitable location and I wouldn’t like to see such an obvious attraction over Thirlmere in the very heart of a national park, especially when it’s just been designated a Unesco world heritage site.

“I was then pressured by sources who wish to remain anonymous to delete the video from my social media as Zip World didn’t appreciate the Thirlmere activity hub references and some followers’ negative comments about Treetop Trek.

“I couldn’t understand why this was happening as I was only stating an opinion and others were only expressing theirs. Despite feeling rather angry at the situation I found myself in, I reluctantly agreed to remove the posts.

“Some weeks later I discovered that Zip World has connections to Treetop Trek and just recently Zip World Lakes Ltd has been registered as a business at Companies House.

“We all stand on the shoulders of giants: Wordsworth sowed the seeds of the idea of national parks; Scotsman John Muir emigrated and contributed to the creation of national parks in the US, we in the UK followed suit; the Kinder mass trespass; the roots of the National Trust; Beatrix Potter fought against the industrialists who sought to transform Lakeland for their own needs.

“Thirlmere ironically is a birthplace of the conservation movement from when it was flooded to become a reservoir. Ullswater, England’s most beautiful lake was planned to be a reservoir at one point but thankfully this didn’t succeed.

“Thirlmere stands as a monument to actions of the past and should always act as a reminder to stand up for conservation when under threat no matter how large or small. The audacious plans by Treetop Trek I feel are better served elsewhere within the Lake District but better still on the outskirts perhaps in west Cumbria, where such an attraction would prove to be genuinely fantastic for the local economy in drawing more visitors to that part of the county and ease the pressures of tourists in Lakeland during peak periods.

“I’ve always sought to inspire and enlighten the public to the beauty and wonderful heritage of the Lake District with my Life of a Mountain documentaries which have been seen by millions of viewers on the BBC.

“The area isn’t a museum of course and will always evolve over time, be it aesthetically or geologically but it is after all a national park; a fact we cannot deny.

“Millions of visitors come to Cumbria every year and will continue to do so and there’s good reason. Conservation plays a huge part in that and accessibility to admire its delights too.

“On Friday I considered all the above and much more besides. I feel terribly sad that things turned out the way it did. I wrestled with my conscience and decided at the very last minute I couldn’t agree to represent a charity which stands in conflict with not only my own beliefs, integrity and convictions regarding conservation but also has tenuous links and contacts with some groups and possible individuals who in turn have links elsewhere and who I feel do not have the national park, it’s people, visitors or the nation’s interests at heart.

“Despite my own feelings and remorse I do hope it encourages the public to scrutinise and hold those in charge accountable for their decision making processes, representation or stances – be it a conservation charity or otherwise when it comes to protecting the Lake District or any other national park.”

A spokesperson for The Lake District Foundation said: “The love of the Lake District runs deep and it’s wonderful that people like Terry have such a passion for the area and such strong views on its future.

“We of course respect his right to express his opinion and wish him well as he begins work on his next film.

“The Lake District Foundation is a neutral organisation that raises funds for the area to distribute to a range of projects. As such, our job is not to campaign on either side of issues such as the proposed zipwire in Thirlmere. There are other highly effective interest groups that exist to do this.

“Therefore, although any of our ambassadors are welcome to express their views as individuals, it is important they don’t use The Lake District Foundation as a platform as it would distract attention from our overall task of raising money for all the good causes we support.

“Friday was a great day in the life of The Lake District Foundation. We received so much support from businesses, partners and local beneficiary projects who are excited about our commitment to generate funds to protect this amazing place.

“Our launch is a step towards our ambitious plans to raise £1 from each of the 18 million visitors to the park each year.”

Members of the public can submit their views on the activity hub proposals. Details are on the Lake District National Park Authority website.

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