There are more TV presenters who have traveled a lot than Simon Reeve – but not by many.
And so when the man who brought us shows from the Americas to Russia, around the equator and the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer stops to think, “It’s as beautiful as anything I see. have seen it, anywhere on the planet ”, we should probably be careful.
“It is one of the great wonders of the country,” he adds with passion.
He talks about the Lake District in Cumbria, nearly 1,000 square miles of national park attracting around 20 million visitors and day trippers a year.
BBC / Jonathan Young)
But few have gone with such determination to immerse themselves in the World Heritage site – literally when it goes swimming wild – and find the stories behind the postcard sights.
Directing his new three-part series The Lakes, Reeve traveled the region from Barrow-in-Furness in the south to Carlisle in the north.
He also traveled the rugged and unspoiled coastline of the Irish Sea in the west to the Windermere and Kendal tourist traps in the east via Scafell Pike.
“I had been to the Lake District maybe a dozen times over the years,” he says.
BBC / The Garden Productions / Jackson Wardle)
“But never really scratch anything below the surface. Maybe I would go for a walk and then I would come back …
“So I thought I knew a little bit but obviously as soon as you start filming you realize you didn’t know anything.”
It is a travelogue with a message.
Glory to the drone images of mountains and valleys and marvel at the beauty of iconic lakes.
But keep in mind that if you want your children and grandchildren to be able to do the same, the way we interact with the landscape has to change.
“I think a lot of us treat it like a natural theme park and I understand that,” Simon admits. “But we have to make life possible for the inhabitants and we have to make sure that it is sustainable.”
These considerations underpin his appreciation of lakes like Buttermere (“one of the most hidden gems”), where he bathes, and the view from the top of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain (“Such a boost for the heart, for the head, for health ”).
And so he meets those who live on and off the earth and those charged with preserving this glorious part of Britain.
BBC / The Garden Productions / Jackson Wardle)
More importantly, he said, the farmers who “created a unique landscape, through hard work and sweat, as culturally valuable as some of our tall buildings.”
He talks to highland sheep farmer David Thompson, who earns £ 12,000 a year and believes he “had better stack shelves in Sainsbury’s”.
And also the best-selling author and farmer James Rebanks who abandoned some modern farming practices, planted 6,000 trees and helped rewild his land overlooking Ullswater – the inspiration for William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
The Lake District is made up of hundreds of small farms and, despite income from tourism, the rural economy is struggling – many young people, unable to buy homes with prices inflated by the national park’s premium, are leaving the area .
“We have to think about it because we need it to preserve the landscapes and, more and more, to bring biodiversity back to the lakes”, explains Simon.
For many who love the national park, the scenery takes center stage, with wildlife usually being a side attraction.
However, for many like Cumbrian native Julie Bailey, flora and fauna will always be the priority and she has embarked on a battle to preserve the native but increasingly rare red squirrel.
“They’re so delicate they seem to float when they jump,” Simon says, the first time he sees one. “This is one of the animals of the region, but it was wiped out in much of the UK.
The presenter, 49, estimates that there are only 15,000 left in England.
Reds are susceptible to the squirrel virus transmitted by the invading grays which outnumber them by 100-1.
Therefore, the latter are the target of humane slaughter as practiced by Julie and her husband Phil.
Julie keeps the skins to make a waistcoat, Phil has a weakness for squirrel curry (preferably madras).
In the sand dunes along the 100 mile coastline between Morecambe Bay and the Scottish borders, Simon is shown a Natterjack toad, one of the UK’s rarest amphibians and a protected species living in a habitat at high risk.
He also sees a small Atlantic salmon thriving in the project to stir the rivers around Carlisle, but it’s the breeding pair of wetland-nesting ospreys that really amazes him.
“Agriculture, mining, river engineering, reservoir construction, introduction of weeds and modern mass tourism have all changed and reshaped the region and its communities,” says Simon.
“And more than anything, nature paid the price. Birds are in constant decline and the last Cumbrian golden eagle died five years ago.
“Ospreys were wiped out as breeding species in the early 1900s,” Paul Waterhouse of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust told him.
BBC / The Garden Productions / Jonathan Young)
“Then a couple came back and they’ve now flown 18 chicks to this nest… West African bird watchers have even taken a photo of a [that had migrated]. “
All of this was made possible by conservation work aimed at restoring wetlands by stopping land drainage.
“It’s a very inspiring and hopeful story,” notes Simon. “Most of the time we think there is no way to get back from the apocalypse we inflicted on Mother Nature… maybe some solutions and answers can be found in the Lake District.”
Peatlands are also being restored, new breeds of cattle are introduced and off the coast of Barrow, one of the largest wind farms in Europe, helps provide renewable energy.
“I learned how vital Cumbria County is to our national life. If we can get things here, it gives me such hope for the future, ”concludes the host.
* The Lakes with Simon Reeve airs at 9 p.m. from Sunday on BBC Two.