Lake District – the role of sheep farming in the environment

George Monbiot, in a recent article criticising the granting of World heritage site status for the Lake District examines the flaws in current policy which have focussed on sheep farming to the detriment of the natural environment.

Everything that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision: the cowardice, the grovelling, the blandishments, the falsehoods. The way conservation groups rolled over is shameful, but also familiar. They did nothing to prevent the Lake District, England’s largest and most spectacular national park, from being officially designated a Beatrix Potter-themed sheep museum.
Lake District is UK’s first national park to win world heritage status
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On Sunday, the UN agency Unesco granted the Lake District world heritage status. This, according to the report on which the decision was based, will correct an “imbalance” between “natural values” and “the cultural values of farming practices”.

The entire high fells have been reduced by sheep to a treeless waste of cropped turf whose monotony is relieved only by erosion gullies, exposed soil and bare rock. Almost all the bird, mammal and insect species you might expect to find in a national park are suppressed or absent, and 75% of wildlife sites are in an unfavourable condition. So you could be forgiven for thinking that the balance should be tilted back towards nature. Oh no: apparently it’s “the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities” that have been neglected.

Another of George Monbiots controversial articles. There is certainly a lot to think about here and scope for policy change. An important question is whether there is room for an element of sheep farming in the area and maintaining the rural economy by retraining local farmers to become land managers in the widest sense of the word.

Removing the sheep without creating alternative employment options could result in farmhouses becoming second homes, to the detriment of the local population.


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