On arrival at our bike hire base in Lowick, you arrive in the Lake District National Park, surrounded by a landscape honed by farming over the centuries. This landscape is celebrated as a ‘cultural landscape’; a globally significant example of the relationship between people and place. This is now recognised by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Yet this landscape, evolving over centuries of farming, is now under threat from government policies. Since leaving the EU there has been a dramatic shift in government funding from food production to ‘Greening’.
Today as you cycle round this beautiful area the evidence of livestock is diminishing. Farmers are now being paid to keep sheep off the fells and some hefted flocks of the native Herdwick sheep have been dispersed. This undermines years of farming traditions which inevitably reflects on the very landscape as the grazing is replaced by scrub.
Pastures are being planted with trees by businesses to off-set carbon emissions of major polluting companies, a scheme created by government to become carbon neutral. This is happening as family farms are gobbled up by developers, while the young cannot afford to live in the Lake District, and farming knowledge and skills passed down from father to son is lost forever.
Therefore the very reasons the Lake District is a UNESCO World Heritage
site is being eroded.
The very people who have tended and farmed the land and formed the landscape are being driven out. Traditional farming, mining, quarrying and forestry are all de-manning and deskilling. While the next generation cannot afford to live in the National Park.
For the 18 million tourists who annually visit the Lake District National Park they view only the landscape as it is today, and emotionally connect with it accordingly, bringing their inevitable massive carbon footprint with them.
Conservation was a key to being awarded the UNESCO World Heritage site yet the key players; the hill farmers with their hefted flocks of Herdwick, Swaledale and Kendal Rough sheep are being driven from their farms by government policy and the National Trust.
What is ‘conservation’ if the very people whom have lived here for generations can no longer make a viable living from the land, providing food for the nation?
The very landscape, people and environment that has drawn visitors, artists and poets to admire it is now under severe threat.
Hill farming plays a very important role in the maintenance of the fells and mountains as correct stocking levels of sheep help maintain the short green grasses. Already with de-stocking the grasses have become long, lank, and inedible for sheep to eat. So what do the powers above do? …send cattle onto the hills to eat the long grasses!
This balance between people and place, this ‘cultural Landscape’ is no longer in equilibrium as government agricultural policies ebb and flow, with little or no regard as to how it effects the local communities and farmers in rural England.
What can we do to help as well as cycling – rather than driving – around the
Support English farmers, the beating heart of the Lakeland landscape, by buying locally produced lamb, mutton, beef, veal, pork, and eggs. Buy from local butchers who source local meats killed locally in the nearest abattoir. Therefore supporting not only the farmers who tend the landscape with their stock, but the jobs they help create, the whole eco-structure of food production for the nation.