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.
The weather has been a little more mixed this week in the Lakes. This morning we woke to a fine drizzle and the leaves on the Oak tree across the road which have been steadily turning yellow and brown are now starting to slowly fall.
Many other trees are just beginning to turn but the autumn winds have not yet arrived to strip them of their foliage.
The forestry commission has a useful website that monitors the changing colours nationwide. The link for Grizedale Forest is at www.forestry.gov.uk
We British have an obsessive pre-occupation with the weather. We're always complaining about it in one way or another. But here in Windermere we really can't complain. True we shared with most of the country a surfeit of wet weather during what we nominally call summer but fortunately were spared the flooding that hit other parts of the country. I suppose this is something to do with the hills and the lakes and the fact that this place usually gets plenty of rain anyway, so the drainage system and rivers are designed to cope.
But it's the first week in October, the sun is shining and it's very warm. I've just returned from a jog along the Windermere Way, from Troutbeck to the summit of Wansfell. It was glorious and there were plenty of people, out and about enjoying the weather.Clear autumn skies from Wansfell
Getting to the point of this ramble. With the superb spring and autumn that we have had, combined with a few good days during the summer, I think it's been a really good year. A summer that starts in April and goes through to October is OK in my book even if there were a few wet days in between. It's certainly been a better summer than many I can remember and makes the winter seem that much shorter.
The waste management situation in Cumbria is a complete shambles. Arguably the Lake District and therefore Cumbria is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. There are a high proportion of people living in and around the lakes that have a very positive attitude to recycling and would want to keep it that way.
No so our elected representatives it would seem. The public face of recycling in Cumbria is all about roadshows and massive ads in the local press advising people where and when they can recycle. Despite all this, the only not to recycling in the Windermere area is a twice monthly paper collection. Glass, cans, anything else and you've got to take it to the 'civic amenity site'.
This month I pulled out some old wooden panelling and shelving whilst carrying out a renovation project. As the boot in my car is only small I applied for the required permit to take rubbish to the 'civic amenity site' in my van. When I got there I was informed that the permit did not include wood, only household rubbish and that I would need a different permit for wood. So back home I go, unload all the wood as I need the van for something else the following day and apply for a 'wood' permit. This duly arrives.
The wood is reloaded, and again I drive through to Kendal. When I unload, they then tell me that the chipboard cannot be recycled and has to go in the general waste. So not only have I wasted time and fuel, I could have put the stuff out for my local weekly collection anyway and saved a lot of bother, if not the planet.
Why do they do this? Why is it so hard to recycle materials that can be reused? My theory is that it's all about money. They cannot afford to recycle too much as the cost would escalate.
This is very narrow minded. I persevered but not everyone would. What are the alternatives if the council will not dispose of perfectly acceptable materials? I could have burnt it - releasing any carbon or if I had been unscrupulous, just dumped it as others do. And who has to then clear up the mess made by fly tippers, usually at much greater cost? Why good old Cumbria County Council.
Isn't it time for some joined up thinking on this subject?
I've been up Wansfell many times in recent years but always from the Troutbeck side. It's an easy hour, out on the fells and not so steep that way. I decided to walk most of the Windermere to Ambleside section of the Windermere Way this weekend, starting from the station. The walk was pretty much as it was last time I did it but nice to see the spring flowers brightening the place up. And the recent rain had brought a flush of green to the new leaves sprouting everywhere.
When I originally wrote the Windermere Way I remember descending Wansfell and commenting "This path has also been paved for most of it’s length. Care is needed as some parts have been left rather poorly finished although on the whole it is quite good."
Not so now. The people who look after these things have revisited and paved quite a lot more of the path. Only this time the workmanship is very much inferior and the new path very difficult to walk on. This picture shows where a section of new path adjoins some of the earlier work. The difference can clearly be seen. How they expect people to walk on this mess is anyones guess.
Not only that, the stone used has been helicoptered in from some other part of the Lake District and is totally different from the natural rock of the Wansfell area which if my memory of the local geology serves me correctly is part of the Silurian series. The imported stuff is clearly darker and probably from one of the quarries in the volcanic rock further north. The Fix the Fells
website states "Works should be of a high standard of design and implementation using indigenous materials, sympathetic in colour and texture to the immediate surrounding area". I'm don't think they are responsible for this workDoes this matter?
Well I think it does. I've been talking with the planning authority recently about modifications to a house I'm hoping to buy. I want to add a dormer into the roof space and replace a rather poorly constructed kitchen extension. The planners are adamant that local slate be used for the roofing materials and that the dormer be constructed in the rear of the roof. Why? To minimise the visual impact of the changes and to keep the Lake District looking the way it does now. So why do they allow the hills, surely of far more significance than the built environment, to be treated in this way. If Wansfell were a listed building and the owners wanted to repair it, they would have to consult with English Heritage, use only the specified materials and if the work is not up to standard, rip it out and do it all over again. Not only that, the spare stone that was not required was left littered over the hillside. A permanent reminder of the shoddy workmanship employed.
Taking the building analogy a step further, I have also been talking to the building control department about building regs for my proposed alterations. If this path had been subject to building regs., it would have certainly failed.
The upshot of a badly built path is that people will choose not to use it and this can be clearly seen over much of it's length where a new and much easier to walk path is being worn alongside.