Postgraduate Lives: Geoff Wilson MA student at Lancaster University

A proper countryside alliance
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The Independent Online

Geoff Wilson, 53, is doing a part-time MA in Lake District studies at Lancaster University. He does not hold a first degree.

I'm Cumbrian born and bred. My father was a farmer's son and I inherited a knowledge of the countryside. I also inherited my father's love of motorcycles, and I became interested in how people establish access to the countryside. I got a sense of the tensions between landowners and people riding bikes or horses, or walking, and something in me said there was an issue here. How do you balance different interests, how do people co-exist?

I'm not a landowner, I'm more of a land user. But my wife's family are farmers and so were my grandparents, so I know the issues. In recent years, I think people have become less tolerant of each other. Both sides are more aware of their rights and more ready to put on blinkers and fight to defend these rights. This just leads to more trouble, because people fight back even harder. The answer is to metaphorically bang their heads together without them knowing.

In the Lake District National Park, many walkers seek solitude. They think it's inappropriate to see motor vehicles, so there are management programmes to allow vehicles on certain old roads on some days. The walkers who object are often people from outside; the locals know that motor vehicles have always used these roads.

At grammar school, I had a dream of working for the Ordnance Survey, but my father thought that wasn't a proper job. He said: "Nay, lad, go away and be an engineer," which I did. In engineering, there's an answer to everything. If the answer is wrong, the bridge falls down. I wasn't used to studying a discipline in which there are a number of possible answers.

I chose this course because I wanted something that related to 20 years of interest. I've done volunteer work on tourism commissions, local access forums and the Cumbria Country Council and, while people respected what I said, I couldn't back it academically.

When I started at Lancaster, I felt I didn't know the tricks of the game. I'd never been to university. But that hasn't been a problem; people are prepared to be asked questions. I love having people I can challenge and they respond in an objective way. There's not the prejudice I see in countryside affairs.

My research is on how park authorities conduct the public consultation process and why they don't get the level of response they want. I've travelled all over the world; I knew the world, but not my own back yard. This course strengthens my knowledge of my roots.

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