An alternative to wind farms.
01/01/08 15:15 Filed in: Environment
As the need to generate power from renewable sources, the Lake District and other upland areas of the UK are coming under increasing pressure as possible sites for the construction of wind farms. The Winash development near Tebay has been headed off, only for a new proposal to emerge for a massive farm at Berrier Hill, just below Blencathra.
Seen by some as desolate empty countryside these wild areas make an ideal site for wind farms. But to the outdoor enthusiast they are potential blots on the landscape. The Berrier Hill development would dominate the views from Blencathra and many other fells.
Just as we are starting to see the decommissioning of Sellafield, a long standing scar on the western fringe of the Lakes are we now to see it replaced with a necklace of wind farms, blighting every view outward?
Despite the pastoral scene that many see, the Lakeland fells have always been a working landscape going back thousands of years. Commercial forestry is important in the Lakes today and in many other upland areas. Before that quarrying and mining go back to Roman times and beyond. In the heart of Lakeland the Langdale Pikes was once a source of axe heads used by stone age man.
Most people see the Lakes as a bucolic playground and they don’t want things changed. The Lake District National Park Authority, the National Trust and the Friends of the Lake District all have a mandate to oppose change and keep things as they are. And up to now they have been right. That was the purpose of the Nation Park and the National Trust, to preserve the heritage and that is good.
The sweeping majesty of the view of Mickleden from Side Pike, the wildness of upper Eskdale, the grandeur of Wasdale, recently voted Britain's favourite view; all need to be preserved. But consider this for a moment. The landscape we love so much is a man made one, manufactured for the rearing of sheep. What we are seeking to preserve is the construct of the recent generations of man, not just of nature.
It wasn’t always so. Before man started mining the hills for precious minerals, they would have been largely forested. The forests were progressively cleared to provide fuel for the mines and the furnaces of southern Lakeland. The valleys drained to provide grazing for sheep and the landscape transformed to what we now know and love.
But the time for sheep farming has passed. Britain's hill farmers have been struggling to make ends meet for years and only massive subsidies keep them going. Recent reports in The Westmorland Gazette reveal that a sheep's fleece sells for as little as £20 and that some hill farmers as surviving on as little as £2,000 a year. Yet all this valuable land and these subsidies still pour in to keep the status quo and keep sheep on the hills.
So how can the Lakes and the other upland areas contribute to reducing our carbon footprint, whilst at the same time retaining their unspoilt beauty? It’s not easy but I think it’s time for a change. Time for positive action that will require a change in thinking in those by those who manage the National Parks and the surrounding area. Whilst we in the UK complain about forest clearance in countries like Brazil and Indonesia, we did the same ourselves several generations ago. Here’s a golden opportunity to provide a huge carbon sink, make the fells more productive. It’s well known that large amounts of carbon can be tied up indefinitely in the worlds forests. Is it time we reduced the number of sheep on the fells and planted more trees?
Wait! I hear you say. We don’t want the fells covers in forests, look at the blight of Ennerdale caused by serried ranks of Rotas. I think that even the Forestry Commission have moved on from that perspective.
If you can’t visualise this scenario, come to Windermere, where it’s already happening, albeit on a small scale. Walk or drive around lake Windermere and most of the time you’ll surrounded by woodland. Several hectares of fellside on the slopes of School Knott overlooking Windermere Town that previously supported sheep were planted as a millennium wood are now growing strongly. Further south, large parts of the Rosthwaite estate between Winster and Ghyll Head had been forested by the landowner, Ken Scowcroft. This is planning for the future. Extend this approach a little further up the lower slopes of the fells and more importantly to places like Winash and Berrier Hill and we’ll be making a positive contribution to counteracting global warming and making these areas less suitable for wind farms.
If we really want to protect the wild upland areas of the UK, perhaps it’s time to stop wasting our energies defensively by campaigning against future wind farms and actively offer some sensible alternatives that will contribute positively whilst at the same time protect those areas of wilderness which we hold so dear.