The National Trust’s Board of Trustees has unanimously approved the Trust’s decision to amalgamate Beatrix Potter’s Farm with three neighbouring farms despite Prince Charles, environmentalist David Bellamy and Countryside Alliance president Baroness Ann Mallalieu all opposing the plans, fearing that a unique part of Britain’s farming heritage will now be lost, with little consultation.
But the National Trust is adamant that this is the right decision: ‘Though difficult, we sincerely believe that today’s decision is the right one for now and the long term ? and we are convinced that Beatrix Potter would feel the same,’ says a spokesperson.
High Yewdale Farm is the National Trust’s showcase example of a Hill Farm and was visited by the Queen in 1985. But the Trust believes the farm, which was bequeathed by Potter when she died in 1943, is no longer viable because of Common Agricultural Policy Reforms. When present tenants Jonny and Ruth Birkett announced their retirement in April this year the Trust decided to rent out the 17th century farm buildings for residential or other use. The 700 Herdwick sheep, understood to have been close to Potter’s heart, have been sold and the 188 hectares of land amalgamated with neighbouring properties.
‘The whole process has been strongly influenced by the dramatically changing circumstances facing upland farming following the reduced levels of subsidy due to CAP reforms’ says the Trust, ‘This means that a once profitable fell farm will no longer be so.’
But an action group set up to keep the farm intact is convinced it is still financially viable. Tim Farron, Mp for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hill Farming says: ‘The Trust has used the current situation with the Hill Farming Allowance and modulation payments to say that the farm is unviable. However, discussions between my All Party Group on Hill Farming and the NFU indicate that we could see a real change in these payments in the next six months. Unfortunately, it will then be too late to save High Yewdale.’
The Trust maintains it considered the possibilities of re-letting and diversification at High Yewdale but has found amalgamation the best option. ‘Beatrix Potter took a similarly pragmatic approach when amalgamating two farms with her farm at Hilltop and High Yewdale itself is the product of amalgamation’, says the Trust.
‘The end of High Yewdale as a working fell farm sets a worrying precedent for other hill farms in the Lake District,’ says Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, ‘Beatrix Potter wanted future generations to enjoy the Lake District as she had. The National Trust decision challenges this legacy. Will they allow the landscape that inspired Peter Rabbit to fall into ruin?’
The National Trust claims it will continue to find ways of sustaining farming in the uplands, calling on the Government to provide more support. ‘We want to work ever more closely with our farm tenants, local communities and other partners in Cumbria and further afield to face the challenges of adaptation and change in the Lake District,’ it stressed yesterday.