The National Sheep Association (NSA) is “extremely alarmed” by comments from George Monbiot that iconic areas of the UK have been “sheepwrecked”.

Writer and environmentalist Mr Monbiot told The Guardian newspaper that the Lake District was “one of the most depressing landscapes in Europe”.

He went on: “The celebrated fells have been thoroughly sheepwrecked: the forests that once covered them have been reduced by the white plague to bare rock and bowling green.

“By eating the young trees that would otherwise have replaced their parents, the sheep wiped the hills clean. They keep them naked, mowing down every edible plant that raises its head, depriving animals of their habitats.”

The NSA accused Mr Monbiot of underestimating the role sheep play in shaping our rural environments and overlooking their pivotal part in ecosystems, local communities and food production.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “George Monbiot’s comment in The Guardian newspaper that the Lake District is being ‘sheepwrecked’ is disgracefully misleading and conveniently overlooks the fact that the Lake District and many other beautiful areas of the UK were carved out and are maintained by sheep farming.

“As the National Trust, Natural England, and English Heritage have proposed, the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places on earth because of the harmonious relationship between sheep, human farming activity, wildlife and ecology, landscapes and the local economy.”

He added: “Mr Monbiot’s comments are out of date and suggest he has not visited the countryside recently but is trapped in an image of the mid-1980s when farming was encouraged, through policies, down a road that was clearly not sustainable. Those times are past and Monbiot needs to get out and have a look.”

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