Lakes fight for a quiet corner

When the Government turned its back on the recommendation of its own countryside advisers that the peace of National Parks would be better protected if recreation was restricted to "quiet" enjoyment, the biggest cheer was from power boat sailors, motorbike trail riders and those who like to pit their 4x4 vehicles against the mud and ruts of "green roads".

As Ian Mercer, secretary general of the Association of National Parks, observed: "No-one is more truculent than the Briton at leisure." Quiet enjoyment was one the principles at the heart of the Countryside Commission's Fit for the Future parks review of 1991, but ministers were swayed by a powerful motoring lobby, including the RAC.

The Lake District has spent pounds 500,000 of its slender resources trying to get boat speeds on Lake Windermere limited to 10 mph. The park and the power boaters are now awaiting the outcome of a public inquiry into the proposed speed limit. There is a fear in the conservationist camp that the lack of a "quiet enjoyment" rule in the 1995 Environment Act will play a significant part in Secretary of State John Gummer's decision.

Some 7,000 power boats each year register to go on the lake - the only one in the park where they are permitted. The restriction would sink water skiers, who need a minimum speed of 18mph, and ban the noisy, but increasingly popular, scooter-like jet skis. Windermere is England's largest lake, 10.5 miles long, but relatively narrow. On a busy day up to 1,500 craft use it, from 70mph power boats to canoeists.

Tony Hill, the park's Windermere ranger, says: "We have to decide as a nation what we want from these parks. Do we want somewhere where people can enjoy themselves like a seaside town or do we say we are keeping these as special areas?" Mr Hill wants the latter.

The Lakes has come to an understanding with the all-terrain set - no formal closure moves by the park in exchange for voluntary restraint where tracks are badly eroded. Problems continue on the North York Moors and in the Brecon Beacons, where 4x4s are churning up Sarn Helen Roman road.

Tim Stevens, information officer of the 4x4 and trail riders umbrella body, the Land Access and Recreation Association, argues that a horse clattering over a stony track makes as much noise as his trail bike."Democracy isn't just about majority rules OK," he says.

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