Federation objects to UU's fencing plan above Thirlmere

United Utilities are applying for a 9.6km fence on the fells to the south west of Thirlmere. We believe this will be very damaging and we have sent a letter of objection to the Planning Inspectorate.  This what we said in the letter.


Dear Sir/Madam,

Proposals by United Utilities to fence Whelpside, Steel End, West Head, Armboth, Bleaberry and Wythburn Common

This submission is based on the views of the elected Committee Members of the Federation of Cumbria Commoners (FCC). All are hill farmers and graze sheep on common land in Cumbria. FCC was set up in early 2003 to be a representative voice to support and protect the commoners of Cumbria. Membership is open to all Commoners’ Associations and commoners in Cumbria and we have affiliate members who are commoners in Lancashire and Northumberland. We currently have nearly 550 members. For more information see www.cumbriacommoners.org.uk

United Utilities is proposing to fence the southern boundary of Whelpside, Steel End, West Head, Armboth, Bleaberry and Wythburn Fells Common on the western side of Thirlmere. They acknowledge that this proposal would effectively enclose all of the western part of the common. We object to this proposal for a number of reasons, which we outline below.

Traditionally, the commons in Cumbria cover relatively large areas of land, of which a high percentage are contiguous with neighbouring commons. They are actively farmed and have a number of common graziers. To farm vast areas of open moorland, a system of land management dating from before Anglo-Saxon times has evolved and continues to this day. Known as pastoral commoning it exemplifies a farming system that delivers food from marginal land and supports a wide diversity of wildlife, iconic landscapes, open access, carbon storage, water supply and archeological interest.

Pastoral commoning is based on a system of collective stewardship allowing sheep to be kept in unfenced areas of common land without constant shepherding. Two main factors underpin this system. First, it is a locally managed system that has evolved over time and is based on stable numbers of hefted sheep grazing their allotted territory (heft) on the common. Second, the system relies on “good neighbourliness” where graziers recognise their obligations to their neighbours to keep the hefting systems going, also to work together so that demanding tasks such as gathering sheep from vast areas of rough hill land are possible.

We do not, per se, object to temporary fencing in order to establish small areas of wood and scrub land on common land as part of Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes. However, it is our belief that this proposed fence is of a completely different scale, intention and consequence. It effectively encloses the common and as a result threatens the principles of commoning established over a millennia ago.

This “temporary” fence may provide a short-term solution and stop increased sheep ingress caused by the externally imposed imbalanced stocking rates as a result of HLS agreements, but in doing so it undermines the need for “good neighbourliness”. In effect by putting up a fence UU are offering a privatised solution that goes against the grain of the principle of joint ownership of land management. If the fence is erected the custom of accepting mutual obligations between commoners is weakened and may be difficult to recreate if/when the fence is taken down.

Furthermore, enquires show that UU has engaged in very limited consultation, if any, with adjoining commoners / commoners’ associations in developing this fence proposal. We believe that UU has not struck a fair balance between the interests of their company and the interests of the adjoining commoners.

Another major concern is that despite the lack of evidence of linkages between sheep stocking levels and water quality, UU assert that a fence will allow them to maintain less sheep on the common and this will lead to reductions in Dissolved Organic Carbon in the water in Thirlmere.  Based on current research this assertion is incorrect. Natural England’s recent evidence review “Impact of moorland grazing and stocking rates (NEER006)” 2014, states that “there is no published evidence of grazing effects on water quality” (p viii). The report assumes that “Grazing may have little effect on water quality, at least at relatively low stocking rates” while there may be weak indications of a relationship between Dissolved Organic Carbon and burning regimes. We know that in the Lake District very few commons (including the commons surrounding Thirlmere) are burned on a regular basis.

We hope you will take our comments into account and urge you to refuse this application. If you require any further clarification, do not hesitate to contact us.

Yours faithfully,