Wilderness threat to Fells

The debate about the future of the Lakeland fell tops continues with an article in this week’s Westmorland Gazette. According to delegates at the meeting, without hill farmers the fell tops face a bleak future as a wilderness with ruined barns and collapsed walls and that this was vital to maintain the character of the Lake District.

Utter tosh. Even if the hill farms were abandoned overnight, which is not going to happen, the sheer numbers of people wandering the fells would ensure that paths remained open just by walking there. If woodland were to reclaim the fells it’s density will naturally lessen as the height increases and the fell tops are unlikely ever to be covered. As for buildings, well if they’ve got a use they’ll be kept in good repair, simple as that.

But just suppose for a moment that the sheep were removed and the fells were left to their own devices. Reforestation would be a gradual process. Only the youngest amongst us would live to see the hillsides carpeted with forests. But this is only an extension of what is already there and what was once the way the fells looked anyway. Many parts of South Lakeland are already heavily forested. Walk anywhere around Windermere and a good part of your walk will be amongst trees. More trees are being planted all the time. In the last ten years, several thousand have been planted on the slopes of School Knott. Further south, the Rosthwaite estate has also seen large scale reforestation.

I was in Ennerdale recently, a valley I have shunned for most of my adult life, assuming it to be a blanket Sitka forest. It’s not. It’s a wonderfully diverse, but also essentially wild and beautiful place.

And there are further benefits. Managed woodland is a sustainable resource and an eco fuel source. And, it could be argued, using the fells to grow a sustainable forest would be a far lesser evil than allowing them to be covered with wind farms.

The fell tops are and always have been an industrial landscape, going right back to the romans and even to the stone age. In that timescale sheep farming which is responsible for the way the fells look at present is a very recent, man made alteration. We should not be afraid of change, we should embrace it.