Upland farmers in the Lake District say their traditional sheep farming communities face an uncertain future due to reductions in stock numbers to comply with environmental policy.
Keith Rowand, an upland farmer with long-standing heritage in the Lake District, has written to King Charles to raise concerns about the preservation of traditional upland farming in the area.
Mr Rowand has been farming at Stool End Farm at the top of the Langdale Valley for almost 50 years. He told Farmers Weekly that policies to reduce sheep numbers in hefted flocks were already having an impact.
“Sheep farmers across the Lake District are now suffering the hardship of having to gather their sheep from neighbouring fells,” he said.
Out of control
“Some sheep are wandering off for miles into other hefts. The situation is out of control. The problem is, when you remove sheep from one area, the remaining sheep just flock in.”
Mike Toms, a sheep farming neighbour of Mr Rowand, said hill farms need a steady income to survive, but the reduction of the BPS and its replacement with environmental schemes does not provide sufficient income to keep the farms viable.
“Farmers joining environmental schemes are being asked to reduce sheep numbers in the belief that it will improve the quality and diversity of herbage on the commons,” he added.
“This is debatable and open to discussion.
“The National Trust is encouraging new tenants to enter environmental schemes, partly because they believe there will be a conservation benefit and partly because they believe income from the scheme will help to keep the farm viable.”
Nigel Hollingworth, who lives and works in Langdale Valley, has launched a “Save Herdy and World Heritage petition” to change the framework of governance of upland farming in the Lake District (see “Petition launched to save Herdwick sheep in the Lake District”).
In March, the National Trust wrote to secretary of state Therese Coffey calling for greater government support and improved funding for upland farmers through Defra’s Environmental Land Management scheme.
No rewilding policy
However, a spokesperson for the trust strongly denied claims it is operating a rewilding policy in the World Heritage site.
“Herdwicks are part of the culture of the Lake District and we remain committed to the preservation and celebration of the breed.”
Natural England told the Westmorland Gazette it works closely with Lakeland farmers and land managers to help them access Defra funding for green schemes to make environmental improvements, “which is often an important way to sustain farming in the uplands and ensuring that Herdwicks continue to be seen on the fells”.
Defra said Herdwick flocks and upland habitats have “highly valued” attributes in the Lake District World Heritage site.
A spokesperson said: “We are supporting Cumbria’s upland farmers through increased payment rates and improved options through our farming scheme and working with them to maintain the distinctive character of the Lake District’s fells.”
Petition launched to save Herdwick sheep in the Lake District
An online petition has been launched to save Herdwick sheep and maintain World Heritage Status in the Lake District.
The petition, which has been created by local consultant Nigel Hollingworth, proposes the establishment of a new governance body to balance the livelihoods, way of life and interests of sheep farmers in the Lake District whose futures are at risk.
The proposed Lake District Engagement Body (LDEB) would be set by the government with remit to ensure all plans and policies are agreed, operated and managed with input from upland farmers across the Lake District World Heritage site, so any decisions are in agreement with those farmers who live and work in the area.
Dr Hollingworth said Herdwick sheep are synonymous with the Lake District and visitors are thrilled to see them thriving in their natural environment.
“Sheep farmers across the Lake District face a precarious future. Their very existence is under threat from Defra and its environmental policy,” he said.
“If you care about preservation of the farming landscape for generations to come and/or have moral interests in sustaining the Lake District landscape and World Heritage site as it is, please sign the petition now before it closes.”
Guardian columnist George Monbiot and environmentalist Ben Goldsmith have both infuriated farmers by blaming sheep for overgrazing the uplands and arguing they should be replaced with trees.
The petition is open until 31 December 2023. For more details, visit save-herdy.com.