Farming News - National Trust defends Lake District farm purchase

National Trust defends Lake District farm purchase

The National Trust has defended its decision to acquire a Lake District sheep farm worth almost £1 million after coming under fire over its purchase.

The Trust purchased almost 123 ha of land at Thorneythwaite Farm, Borrowdale at auction in late August with plans to manage the area for wildlife conservation. The Trust did not buy the farmhouse, which was up for auction as a separate lot.

Local farmers and Cumbrian Labour Peer Lord Bragg have accused the charity of using bullying tactics to secure the land, and the Labour Lord wrote in a letter to the Times that the purchase is interfering with generations of Herdwick sheep farming in the dale. He said hill farmers are critical to the preservation of life in the Lake District, which has been shaped by hundreds of years of hill farming. Farmers in the district have complained that the Trust’s purchase of the land but not the farmhouse at Thorneythwaite calls into question its commitment to farming in the area.

However, conservationists and other commentators have said that rewilding of areas of upland Britain are needed to address plummeting biodiversity, tackle flooding and address climate change.

Responding to claims from Lord Bragg that it had bullied local farmers out of the land, the Trust said the farm had been advertised internationally as a lifestyle opportunity, and that “There was risk it could be bought up by a private owner from anywhere in the world, or a property investor. There were certainly no guarantees that a local farmer would have secured it.”

“The Trust did not break up the farm. The private owners decided to sell the land in two separate plots – thereby splitting the land and the farm. The Trust used its charitable funds to bid for the land rather than the building. There was still an opportunity for someone to purchase both parcels together after we had bid for the land.”

Though the Trust’s stated intention is to continue farming the land, as part of its wider drive to find more ‘wildlife friendly’ approach to farming, the conservation charity did say its purchase will enable it to take a ‘big picture’ approach to looking after the landscape, and upon announcing the purchase, the Trust raised eyebrows amongst rewilding sceptics by stating, “We will also explore how we may be able to use the farm to slow the flow of the Upper River Derwent, thereby contributing to the prevention of flooding downstream in communities such as Keswick and Cockermouth.”

The charity said there is no existing tenant at the farm, so no-one is being displaced as a result of the sale. The flock of sheep on the farm are currently the responsibility of the Lodore Estate, and the Trust added, “We have an existing stock of 21,000 Herdwicks and own 90 farms in the Lake District, 54 of which are fell farms. The land will be managed by a tenant, and we have already had several expressions of interest. It will be farmed with nature in mind but it will continue to support a flock of Herdwick sheep.”