Federation objects to Lake District National Park leasing Glenridding Common to John Muir Trust

The Federation has just sent its response to the Lake District National Park Authority consultation on the leasing of Glenridding Common to the John Muir Trust. The Federation is not supporting this proposal.

You can read our full response below.

Martin Curry

Lake District National Park Authority

Murley Moss

Kendal LA9 7RL

 

Dear Martin,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, a representative body for commoners in Cumbria, in response to the consultation to lease Glenridding Common to the John Muir Trust (JMT). We have given serious consideration to this proposal and we have come to the conclusion that we cannot support it.

Glenridding Common is an unenclosed, contiguous common bounded by Matterdale, St John’s, Whelpside and Grisedale Forest Commons. Together they make up the Helvellyn Massif, one of the most beautiful, dramatic and fragile landscapes in the Lake District and are the workplace of fifteen hill farmers who exercise their legal rights to graze hefted flocks on the Massif. Paradoxically these commons have the appearance of a wild landscape even though they have been strictly regulated and farmed for many centuries. Pastoral commoning underpins the character of the landscape and the cultural heritage of the Lake District and is a fundamental element of the bid for World Heritage Status. Our role is to support and promote commoning in Cumbria into the future.

Our overriding concern is the medium to long term ownership and management of Glenridding Common, rather than the 3-year lease per se. We know that the two graziers on Glenridding Common have signed up to a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Agreement ending in 2023. A change in the short-term tenure of the common will have negligible effect on the HLS Agreement and the current agricultural management of the common.

The nub of the issue is what happens after the 3-year lease and who gains the ownership of the common as this may give them the power to make changes that support their interests over and above those of the commoners. We have been told that after the first 3-year lease is completed it is highly likely that LDNPA will consider selling the common to JMT or offer them a long-term lease. Our response is based on this premise.  

We have a number of concerns, primarily the suitability of JMT who, to date, have no experience of owning and/or managing common land in England and their charitable objects do not include supporting cultural heritage. A second concern is the way the LDNPA has conducted this whole consultation process. Third, we need to be satisfied that any lease will have legally binding terms that protect commoning into the future.

Starting with the process. There was no initial consultation to gauge local farmers, residents and other stakeholders’ opinions about potential changes to the management and ownership of Glenridding Common. Instead we are now being given the opportunity to offer our views on a narrow option – a proposal to offer the lease to only one organisation – JMT. And we are being asked to do this with little background information. LDNPA’s consultation page on the website does not tell us if other organisations expressed an interest in leasing Glenridding Common, nor what criteria they used to select JMT. Instead we are given a general reassurance that JMT can do the job. This may be sufficient when leasing a small common, but not for an iconic landscape described by JMT on their website as “an area of exceptional beauty and wild land qualities that includes the summit of Helvellyn, along with Striding Edge and Swirral Edge.”

For the Federation to feel confident that JMT is the right choice we would need to know a lot more. Right now we are left wondering if there are possible hidden (or not so hidden) agendas behind this proposal. Are some LDNPA staff more concerned to support conservation interests over and above other land management interests? And if Genridding Common is leased to JMT could this mean that the door is open for LDNPA to offload other commons to a particular stakeholder interest?

If you look at this consultation process from the outside it would be easy to label it as flawed. The main interested party, LDNPA, is running the consultation with support from the potential beneficiary - JMT. This hardly seems impartial. Furthermore, if the purpose of the process is to give all stakeholders an opportunity to have their say, then holding one public meeting, inviting people to respond to three “essay-type” questions posted on the website, via letter, or e-mail and a few face-to-face meetings with key people is not enough. If the farmers who are likely to be affected by this proposal don’t find the consultation accessible and don’t respond, how does LDNPA interpret this lack of response?

On to JMT. Our understanding is that it is a conservation charity explicitly supporting rewilding through allowing natural processes to take their course. Their website states “Essentially the Trust has had rewilding at its core since its inception as reflected in the first three objects of the Trust’s Memorandum of Association…..” JMT’s purpose is “to conserve and protect wild places with their indigenous animals, plants and soils for the benefit of present and future generations.” In the first instance Glenridding Common is not a wild place and if rewilding is not JMT’s intention for Glenridding common then it would be appropriate to make this explicit. But they don’t. We are given a high level draft management plan that tells us that all JMT management plans have actions based on their Wild Land Management Standards and these will be modified to take account of the different context of the Lake District. This is not enough to give us the assurances we seek. To date, we are not convinced that JMT will actively safeguard and support commoning, a farming practice that is a key part of the Lake District’s bid to be a World Heritage Site.

Finally, the Foundation for Common Land has offered a set of principles to incorporate into a lease to safeguard commoning. Without the surety that these (or similar) are incorporated into the lease for Glenridding Common we will be unable to support leasing this common to any organisation/ individual, whoever they are.

We invite you to seriously reconsider the whole process of leasing Glenridding Common.

Yours sincerely,