A proposal to fence off a large area of open fells in the heart of the Lake District has been condemned by campaign groups, who claim that it will impact on the freedom to roam. And look horrid.
To reduce stock grazing, which causes erosion runoff into watercourses, landowners United Utilities (UU) want to erect nearly 10km of fencing on common land at the southwest end of Thirlmere. Enclosing 866 hectares (more than three square miles) of wild fellside, the fence would run along the boundary of Whelpside, Steel End, West Head, Armboth, Bleaberry and Wythburn Fells Common. It would pass the summit of Ullscarf and effectively enclose the head of the Wythburn valley, one of the least-spoilt and remotest-feeling areas in the Lake District.
Campaigners from the Open Spaces Society (OSS) and Friends of the Lake District have attacked the idea:
‘The proposed fence will be one of the greatest threats the Lake District has faced to the traditional openness and freedom of the fells' said Ian Brodie, former director of the Friends of the Lake District and representative of the OSS.
'It will impact on many walkers each year and it appears to run contrary to the principles of the bid for World Heritage inscription which United Utilities is supposedly supporting.’
Because the fencing is on common land, it needs the consent of the Planning Inspectorate under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.
Thanks to campaigning by the OSS, Britain's oldest conservation group, the public has had access to the commons around Thirlmere since it was made into a reservoir in the late 19th Century. Much later Parliament gave the public rights of access to all commons in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
'We are not prepared to see those rights infringed' said Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the society.
‘We strongly object to this intrusion into this wild, unspoilt landscape of the Lake District National Park. Not only is fencing an eyesore, but it prevents people from roaming freely over the whole area as is their right.'
‘Although the application is for 15 years, we strongly suspect that the fencing will remain for longer. We are dismayed that UU appears not to have developed its long-term plans for the area. Instead of using this drastic means of restricting stock, UU should gather more data and assess whether there are other solutions.’
The OSS are calling on people to send objections to the Planning Inspectorate