The uplands we see today have been shaped by the hand of man over millennia with the evidence of mans interaction with the land all around.  These cultural landscapes comprise an intricate mix of terrestrial habitats including upland heath, blanket bog, broadleaf woodlands, valley bottom meadows and pastures and aquatic habitats (lakes and rivers).  Our uplands support a variety of wildlife of biodiversity importance including birds like twite, ring ouzel, curlew and hen harrier.  Many of the most special places for wildlife have been protected and some of the most special landscapes designated as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Despite their wild appearance, these places are of considerable importance to society.  Much of the water we drink is sourced in the uplands and deep peat soils formed over thousands of years store vast amounts of carbon.  The landscapes themselves which have inspired so many great works of art and literature are also important as play grounds and as a place where people can get closer to nature.  These are of course living landscapes where some people strive to make a living of the land and in so doing have shaped the land we see today.  Hill farming has evolved over the last several hundred years with increases in stock, typically characterised by more sheep and less cattle.  Changed farming practices have been driven by post-war support to produce food (e.g. The Less Favoured Area) and the more recent Common Agriculture Policy.  Despite continued public support for hill farming, the remoteness of many hill farmers from the market place has meant that hill farmers continue to struggle with low incomes and no clear message about the future for the industry.

The future of our uplands hangs in the balance.  Land managers, especially farmers, are critical to the future management of the uplands and are ideally placed to secure the sort of upland landscape and wider public benefits that society wants.  The maintenance of livestock, both cattle and sheep, at appropriate stocking densities, represents one of the best means of maintaining habitats that are more diverse in structure and composition.  Whilst we accept that food production will continue to be a key driver for many hill farmers, we want the industry to help secure a wide range of other goods and services for society as a whole.   Future public support for hill farmers is more likely to be targeted at those farmers who deliver a wider range of outcomes including protection of drinking water supplies and the conservation of sensitive soils, especially carbon-rich peat.  Delivering the right sort of habitat management is critical to restoring degraded habitats and their associated species.

(With thanks to Andrew Gouldstone)

Headline Issues for the Future of Upland Farming

  • A sufficient critical mass of upland farmers needs to be maintained.
  • There is a need for positive policies from key landowners.
  • Upland farming has the potential to make a significant contribution to a low carbon economy through a depth of experience in developing and maintaining low input systems.
  • The challenge is to build and sustain new ways of collaborating so that the cultural landscape is protected, biodiversity is strengthened, and the support and engagement of visitors to the uplands is enlarged and enlivened.

North West Upland farmers provide a huge range of benefits alongside their production of some of the best quality livestock in the UK. They:

  • Commit to farming in the fells including the grazing of hill, moorland and common land by heafed native breeds of sheep.
  • Conserve the land to protect natural resources and biodiversity.
  • Collaborate with other upland farmers and relevant agencies.
  • Communicate actively with local communities and visitors to increase public understanding of the countryside through shows, guided walks and farm open days.
  • Maintain the landscape through enhancing historic countryside features such as vernacular buildings and dry stone walls.
  • Produce quality local food.

The Hill Farming Systems project was developed by the Cumbria Fells and Dales LEADER + Programme in partnership with Voluntary Action Cumbria in response to concerns about the future of hill farming. The aim of the project was to investigate the environmental, economic and social value of hill farming systems in Cumbria.

As part of the project, we have created this website which champions the cause of hill farming, begins a digital record of this invaluable cultural asset in Cumbria, and acts as a two way bridge between farmers and the wider community. This website includes profiles of 30 hill farms and a wide range of information about hill farming in the Cumbria Fells and Dales.
Want to know more about the project?



Using the interactive map find out more about the 30 farms profiled on the website.
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Take a quick tour of the website


Hill farming in Cumbria provides a range of economic, environmental and social benefits to the area.
More details & full reports


NEW ARTICLE June 2010:

The Hill Farming Year

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