Farmers' fences 'threaten landscapes of Lakeland'

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The Independent Online

Thousands of walkers flocking to the Lakeland fells for Easter face the prospect of the finest vistas being destroyed by miles of fences.

Thousands of walkers flocking to the Lakeland fells for Easter face the prospect of the finest vistas being destroyed by miles of fences.

The vast, rolling fells and unhindered views are considered so inimitable that World Heritage Site status is being sought for them. But, for the first time, farmers in the area are putting up fences to mark out territory for sheep.

The move, which has alarmed ramblers, is one of the more unforeseen effects of foot-and-mouth. There had been no need for fences because of the remarkable qualities of the Lakeland sheep, which are able to graze together and find their way home through a "hefting" instinct. Farmers are granted licences to rear them on the common fell land.

But now many of the hefted sheep have gone, culled during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and farmers are reintroducing herds that will take 20 years to regain the instinct. They say electric or chainlink fences are the only way to help them.

The aftermath of foot-and-mouth also means that the herds of farmers who escaped the cull are encroaching on the land of farmers who did not.

Consequently, at least eight miles of electric fences have gone up in the Duddon Valley, on the south side of Scafell, which is now at risk of being swamped by sheep from the Langdale Valley. There is fencing to keep sheep in Ulldale, an area virtually untouched by foot-and-mouth, and away from the Caldbeck Fells

But as contentious as any of these is a proposed eight-mile stretch of fence to ring the head of the Buttermere Valley, including Haystacks – a labyrinth of miniature peaks, rocky tors and heather, the beauty of which defeated even the fell walker and writer A A Wainwright. "Words are woefully inadequate to describe the bewitching loveliness," he wrote. "If I were destined to drop dead on the fells, this is the place I would like it to happen." His ashes were scattered there.

National Park wardens have now halted the plans of a farmer, Willie Richardson, who had posts and mesh in place last month ready to put up fencing. Bob Cartwright, of the Lake District National Park Authority, said: "We are sympathetic to the short-term problems farmers are having, post-foot and mouth, but we do want to protect the unique nature of the landscape."

Mr Richardson is not pleased. He said: "I'm trying to reintroduce hefted herds and the National Park is stopping me. They're being a real pain."

The authority has permitted a four-year temporary fence in Duddon Valley as a compromise but the Friends of the Lake District fear the worst. "These fences don't tend to get taken down. A temporary fence has been up for 15 years at Thirlmere," its spokesman, Ian Brodie, said.

The Friends want farmers to put aside territorial rivalries and provide enough shepherds to prevent the need for fences. But other environmentalists are promising more direct action. "People are saying they'll take wirecutters to any fences that go up," said one.