THE NEWLY-CREATED Federation of Cumbria Commoners has identified public access and the removal of sheep from fell land for environmental reasons as the two main threats to hill farming‘s future.

The federation, which covers more than 100 commons and represents the rights of over 1000 commoners, has set out objectives to be pursued during the next three years through funding provided by DEFRA.

It has also produced a code of practice on key issues facing commoners.

Farmers in other UK upland areas with common land are now following the lead given by Cumbria.

The federation is now regarded as a model on which other organisations can be established.

Commons graziers in Yorks, Lancs and Wales, who have been closely monitoring the progress of the Cumbria federation, are now setting up their own organisations, which will be affiliated to Cumbria.

Kirkby Stephen farmer Harry Hutchinson, the first chairman of the federation, said commoners had not had a unified voice and their rights had been undermined.

“Traditional methods of caring for these wide open spaces are the only workable system of management.

“There have been commons since the Middle Ages, but mounting pressure on these grazing lands through environmental schemes now threatens to break down the entire system,” said Mr Hutchinson.

The federation‘s codes of practice aim to improve the way information is shared between the county‘s commoners‘ associations.

“A 15-point grazing and stock code has been drawn up with the principal aim of ensuring the hefting system continues successfully through proper management.

“We want to avoid over-grazing by maintaining the correct levels of stock and the breeding and husbandry of hardy stock,” said Mr Hutchinson.

He believes managing common grazing land has got to be through co-operation between all graziers to ensure their sheep are properly shepherded.

But he admits that even the policy makers lack a full understanding of the importance of commons.

“The threat to common land is not understood by those making the political decisions over our future.

“We are very concerned that the traditional hefting system is in danger of breaking up under the influence of environmental schemes which take stock off the commons.”