7 September 2001

Hefted system gains protection

RESTOCKING farms which lost hefted flocks through foot-and-mouth must be a priority to halt the invasion of emptied open fells by sheep from farms in neighbouring valleys.

John Metcalfe, Cumbria farm and countryside officer with the National Trust, says the electric fencing project is essential to prevent breakdown of the hefted system in Duddon Valley.

"Its vital to get sheep back on fells which have been empty since early spring. The hefted system is carefully balanced and it must be restored quickly. Sheep must be re-established in these areas soon, so their presence will deter sheep from other flocks drifting in," says Mr Metcalfe.

The NT is aware its proposal to erect fencing across this type of landscape is likely to meet some opposition, but it has been in consultation with the many environmental organisations working in the Lake District and must seek permission to erect fences across common land from the Secretary of State.

"Its a sensitive issue, but the landscape is dependent on the sheep that graze it and a method of getting flocks back onto fells is a priority," says Mr Metcalfe.

The first stretch of fencing to be erected at Black Hall Farm is barely visible from a distance and is not expected to create any adverse reaction from the public. Although shepherding of the newly introduced sheep will be much easier, Mr Metcalfe is aware the fence will have to be maintained along its entire length.

"There will still be a fair amount of work to do checking the fence to make sure there are no gaps or power breaks. But that will be nothing compared with the high shepherding costs and effort that would otherwise be needed to re-establish hefted flocks on open fell."

The Ridley-Rappa fencing system being used can carry current up to 50km. Specially constructed stiles will allow walkers to go over the fence, but problems have been encountered where the fence crosses the road running over open fell.

"This is a problem that will be faced by any similar scheme which wants to run an electric fence over open fell land. We have held talks with the Lake District National Park and it looks as though we will have to site temporary free-standing cattle grids at these points," says Mr Metcalfe.

The Duddon Valley fencing project has been part-funded by a £10,000 donation from the Kensington and Chelsea Ladies Association.