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the problem - the intention of the National Trust to split up the Lake District jewel in their crown - High Yewdale Farm - when the present tenants retire.

An emailer writes:

Page 8 of Monday 24th Jan 2005's edition of the Telegraph outlines the problem - the intention of the National Trust to split up the Lake District jewel in their crown - High Yewdale Farm - when the present tenants retire.

Jonny has lived there for 60 years. I attach the text of the letter sent by the National Trust to other tenant farmers in the Coniston and Little Langdale area. The letter contains some worrying inaccuracies as justification for the changes. High Yewdale Farm is run as a viable economic unit with excellent stockmanship and very high levels of animal welfare - so the proposed changes will not bring about any animal welfare benefits, particularly as the sheep will need to go to a more distant farm after gathering (gathering from the fells takes 3 days because of the terrain) under the proposed arrangements.

Neither will there be any environmental benefits with the proposed restructuring, rather the reverse, as it is the ability to shepherd on the high fells that is the crucial aspect of this enterprise. Only one field on the farm does not have public access and there have been no pollution incidents!

The idea that Beatrix Potter would have approved of the NT's plans is ludicrous, the NT's aim is simply to make more money out of residential letting and probably from storing boats in the wonderful buildings. Jonny Birkett (present tenant) would have been able to tell the NT about Beatrix Potter's vision for the Lake District hill farms if anyone in the NT had cared to listen, as he can remember her visits to the farm when his father was her tenant.

The handling has been crass and it is obvious that no one with fell farming expertise is involved - indeed the National Trust has ignored the wise words of Jonny and his wife Ruth, as well as approaches from two individuals who would have been well able to continue running the farm.

It would be nice if National Trust members could be asked if they think their money is being spent wisely.

Farmer's fury at 'betrayal' of Beatrix Potter legacy

By Nigel Bunyan

(Filed: 24/01/2005)

When Jonny Birkett was small he grew accustomed to visits from Beatrix Potter. The author had picked his father, Robert, to be the tenant of one of her Lakeland farms and once a month she would come along, in clogs and shawl, to chat.

When Potter died in 1943 she left the 17th century High Yewdale Farm, Coniston, to the National Trust, believing it would preserve the style of hill farming she so loved.

Yesterday Mr Birkett, 71, who took over the tenancy 35 years ago, accused the Trust of betraying its benefactor's legacy by deciding to break up the farm's 188 hectares among four other farms.

"Beatrix Potter will be turning in her grave,'' he said. "I've always given the National Trust top marks for trying to save farms, but now they're just going against what they're meant to be about.

"It's a disgrace. This is one of the best farms in the Lake District and we've looked after it as if it was our own.

"Now they've just come along and said, 'That's it'."

Mr Birkett is acknowledged, even by the National Trust, as a "fantastic stockman''. The majority of his 700 Herdwicks are descended from the sheep once owned by the creator of the Peter Rabbit books.

He and his wife, Ruth, 67, recall the day in 1985 when the trust chose to show off their farm to the Queen.

"When the Queen came into the sitting room she signed a photograph of herself at the table. I remember the area manager telling her, 'This farm will be carried on in the usual way'. They obviously thought something of it then. Yet now they're going to destroy it.''

Mr Birkett, whose farm will be broken up when he retires in October, claims the decision has been made by "college boys who've never gathered any sheep off a fell". He added: "There was no discussion. Three fellows came in two weeks ago and just told us. They seem to have decided that the farm isn't viable because we haven't changed our Land Rover and don't buy big tractors. But what do we want with a new Land Rover if the old one works well enough? We've had such a happy life here. When I was young there was not a day too long. Now we feel we've worked for nothing.''

Mr Birkett, whose son, Peter, 39, would have taken over the farm but for health reasons, said the majority of shepherding on the 2,000ft fells had to be done on foot. There are so many remote hollows that sheep can be missed, and the fact that the various flocks are "heafed" to their own territories means that it takes more than three gathers to bring them in for lambing and shearing. "If they split it up the land will go back to rough moorland," he said. "It's heartbreaking''.

John Darlington, the trust's area manager, said: "Undoubtedly it's been a difficult decision, but we've looked at the figures and we have no alternative.'' He said only five of the 14 farms bequeathed by Beatrix Potter had survived. "I believe that she would have seen this as necessary if we are to retain her heritage. She wasn't the type to want things preserved in aspic.''

Letter sent by the National Trust to tenant farmers in the Coniston and Little Langdale area. "..It contains some worrying inaccuracies as justification for the changes."

From John Darlington

Area Manager for the Lake District

Letter sent to all National Trust farm tenants in the Coniston and Little Langdale area



January 6th 2005




You will by now be aware that our respected tenant, Mr J. Birkett, will shortly be retiring from High Yewdale Farm. Consequently, The National Trust has been giving careful consideration to various options for its future use, and we have concluded after a long period of internal consultation and discussion with our partners in the farming community, that the most appropriate way forward is to restructure our farm holdings in the Coniston area.


The main change that we wish to implement is to divide the land currently belonging to High Yewdale Farm amongst the four neighbouring farms. We will subsequently re-let High Yewdale for residential purposes and, potentially, for appropriate rural business use. The Trust will ensure the historic character and landscape setting of the farm are protected and retained.


The primary reason behind the decision to amalgamate has been to strengthen the long-term viability of our farms within the wider area at a time of great change within agriculture. CAP reforms, and in particular the move from headage payments to area payments, will have a significant impact upon agriculture. By restructuring farm holdings we anticipate benefits to the neighbouring farms that are both immediate, such as those that will occur from ESA and HFA payments, and those that will accrue over the eight year transitional period leading to a fully de-coupled Single Farm Payment. At the same time we also envisage that the changes will bring benefits to the environment, to animal welfare, for the control of pollution and for public access.


The Trust has looked long and hard at retaining High Yewdale as a farming unit. To do this would involve a substantial investment particularly in buildings needed to accommodate cattle. Such investment is difficult to justify when set against the long-term requirements for farming within the surrounding area, including our past involvement in the neighbouring farms and their current capacity, and the benefits of restructuring outlined above.


The Trust appreciates that there are concerns within the farming community, particularly with regard to the maintenance of a hefted Herdwick flock. As it stands the proposal ensures the retention of a hefted Herdwick flock in the area, it ensures the same number of shepherding farms and it will afford opportunities for younger generations interested in agriculture to be involved.


There is also concern about the loss of a Beatrix Potter farm. Beatrix Potter was a staunch supporter of the hill farms in the Lake District, but her legacy changed both during her lifetime and subsequently. Of the sixteen farms within the Coniston and Little Langdale area purchased by Beatrix Potter and the National Trust (largely from the Monk Coniston estate), now only six survive as working farms. High Yewdale Farm, like many of its neighbours, is itself a product of amalgamation and restructuring (with Low Yewdale). Importantly, all of that area is still being farmed and the ownership and boundaries remain intact. Beatrix Potter believed that the Lake District should not be fossilised and that it had to change and adapt. Our long term approach means that we are indeed maintaining the Potter legacy, and we hope very much that you, as tenants and partners, will feel positive about joining us in developing the next stage of farming in the Lake District.


Yours sincerely


John Darlington