Bigger than Brexit? Unesco awards Lake District World Heritage site status.



Every so often something comes along and initially you wonder whether it’ll make any difference. And then it occurs to you that it might be wise to read the fine print. So you heroically refuse to allow umpteen pages of dense bureaucratic prose to put you off and you start reading. As you read you slowly come to realise that the world has changed around you and that nothing can be the same again.

You might or might not have noticed that Unesco has awarded the Lake District World Heritage site status. If you want to read their document it’s at


The people I feel sorry for are the various groups of environmentalists who have been trying to drive sheep from the fells and who have been pursuing their own, often conflicting, environmental agendas. They got what they asked for and perhaps they are now wishing that they hadn’t asked.


What is the most important thing in the Lake District? What holds it all together, keeps it the beautiful place everybody wants to visit? Which body should step forward to accept the grateful plaudits of the masses?
Here I quote Unesco


“ICOMOS generally concurs with the view of the State Party but highlights that the maintenance of the English Lake District’s visual qualities is highly dependent on the sustainability of some 200 shepherding farm families and their herds of “hefted” Herdwick sheep. The system has to face crucial challenges of shifts in global markets, changing agricultural subsidies and schemes, particularly given the exit from the European Union, introduced diseases, and climate change.”


Yes, the whole thing depends of 200 farming families who’re working long hours for very limited financial recompense. In fact I doubt any of them will earn anywhere near as much as the National Trust Agents and National Park officers who spend so much time telling them what they can and cannot do.

Not only that but for the last couple of decades we’ve had the same endless refrain, get the sheep off the hills, cut down numbers. As Unesco says


“In the past, overgrazing and other farming management practices threatened the environmental and natural values of the property. Although these practices have been corrected, there seems to be a certain imbalance in the consideration of the natural values favoured over the cultural values of farming practices. In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”


Basically think of Unesco as the school teacher who’s standing in front of a bunch of big kids (various conservation bodies) and jabbing her finger at them, telling them that they’ve got to stop bullying the little guys.

But let’s just stop a minute and think about this. Government has accepted this. If it’s true for the Lake District, then it’s true for most of our countryside. We’ve got ourselves a good general principle worthy of wide acceptance here.


“In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities.”
That I should live to see the day!

Another issue we have is that for most Cumbrians, tourism is more of a blight than an economic opportunity. The Lake District has about 40,000 inhabitants. The area gets about 17,000,000 visitors a year. That’s 13,000,000 day visits and 4,000,000 overnight stays.

Just to put that in context I was talking to one Lake District farmer from Langdale. On one May day Bank holiday the Park did a survey of the number of people walking though their lambing fields (while their sheep were lambing) and walking up to  Stickle Tarn. The flow of people averaged 1135 per hour thought the day. That’s what tourism means for the people who are doing the work that maintains the Lake District as people like it.

Fortunately Unesco can see the issue here and has an answer


“ICOMOS recommends that mechanisms are set up to ensure that economic benefits from tourism are increasingly shared also with shepherds and farmers, recognizing the important ecosystem and management services they provide in maintaining the landscape.”


Well fancy that, the peasantry getting a cut of the income stream that only exists because of their work over the centuries. Damned commie pinko stuff this I tell you!


But it isn’t just about the 200 farming families. The Lake District works because it’s a community (or at least that bit that isn’t all second homes). The whole community needs help. Especially when we’re getting floods which cut all the roads due to extreme weather events. Unesco is on the ball as always.



“The management system should be expanded to develop strategies that prevent depopulation, including affordable housing, neighbourhood shops and promotion of local products, strengthen the disaster risk strategies and incorporate into them local knowledge, and develop interpretive plans based on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property so as to assist visitors’ understanding.”


Yes you read it here, we are now to have affordable homes and building within the National Park! If I’d written that last year you’d have assumed I’d been smoking something illegal. Finally there are the additional recommendations. I’m just including them all.

ICOMOS recommends that the State Party gives consideration to the following:

a) Providing assurances that quarrying activities within the property will be progressively downsized and extraction volumes limited to what is needed for carrying out conservation of the assets supporting the attributes of the property,

b) Formally committing to avoiding any negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and related attributes of the property from the NWCC energy transportation facility being currently planned; and informing the World Heritage Centre about the results of the Heritage Impact Assessment, and how these will be integrated into the planning consent and in the development consent order (DCO),

c) Informing about the timeframe of the integration of World Heritage consideration into the local plans and policies,

d) Developing proactive strategies, including alternative national farm-supporting policies, with the farming community, to address the issues that threaten the viability of the shepherding tradition that maintains many of the landscape’s significant attributes; recognising and financially compensating farmers for their heritage services in caring for the cultural landscape, as well as values such as genetic diversity of herds and food security,

e) Rebalancing programs and funding dedicated to improving natural resources with the need to conserve the valuable cultural landscape that the Lake District is by acting on its key attributes and factors,

f) Strengthening risk preparedness strategies for floods and other disasters that incorporate local knowledge on how to cope with recurrent disastrous natural events,

g) Developing convincing programs to prevent depopulation, including:

a) develop affordable housing for new households and for local retirees,

b) ensure that communities have a mix of commercial outlets that serve the local community,

c) further develop and market local products that benefit residents and local farmers,

h) Developing an interpretation strategy at the landscape level which communicates the different strands of the Outstanding Universal Value by using the documents put together for the nomination dossier,

i) Ensuring that careful attention is paid to conservation of landscape-defining features such as land-use patterns, structures such as shelters, dry stone walls, hedgerows, and also to vernacular architecture and Victorian buildings, not only in designated Conservation Areas, but in the whole property,

j) Submit by 1st December 2018 a report on the implementation of the above recommendations to the World Heritage Centre and to ICOMOS;

Not only have they got to work their way through this list,  but they cannot just kick it into the long grass as far too embarrassing to deal with. Teacher expects their homework back in for marking by the 1st December 2018 or there’ll be trouble.

Already the howls are coming up from the vested interests, the liberal commentators and those who earn serious money from writing about conservation. If you want to read a rant of monumental proportions which verges on the hysterical at times, I’d recommend this one, George Monbiot in full flow. The writing is now on the wall and they don’t like what they’re reading.

The little ones are the real problem


We were moving some heifers, they’d escaped from field A into field B. I fixed the fence and two of us, plus dog and quad when to bring them down field B, along the road and back into field A. This went well enough except for one of them who took umbrage at the presence of the dog and jumped out of field B, over two perfectly good fences and a bit of broken down hedge, into field C.

We looked at her disappearing down field C to join stock already present, shrugged and decided to get the rest moved to field A. We’d let her calm down a bit and move her tomorrow (or whenever.)

That evening I checked field C. Our errant heifer wasn’t there. So I wandered round a bit and finally discovered she’d worked her way through two perfectly stock-proof hedges to rejoin her mates in field A, entirely of her own volition.

Moving cattle is easy if everybody keeps calm. The problem is that young cattle quite like to run. There’s obvious something atavistic about it all. The thunder of hooves, the dust, the endless prairie, all they need is John Wayne. As an aside here I always remember my Grandfather’s comment,

“Hell I wish I’d had John Wayne working for me.”

“Why Grandad?”

“Because he’s just driven Longhorns into a canyon and they’ve come out the other end Herefords.”

But anyway, a big part of moving cattle is keeping it boring. Not only that but it helps if they know you. So every day, I, and whoever was ‘the Dog’ would walk through every batch of cattle we had. Indeed I’d often take a little bit of feed with me. When I mean ‘a little bit,’ I’m talking a couple of pounds for a batch of sixty or so. It reminds them that you’re one of nature’s nice people and worth following in case you might spontaneously produce more of the stuff for them.

I’ve regularly moved thirty cows with their calves at foot just by walking among them with the bag, then out of the gate and along the lane with Jess quietly trotting along at the back making sure the laggards kept up. If she’d been able to close gates behind us, it would even have saved me having to go back to do that later. This is from Jess’s earlier career when she had proper cattle to play with and wasn’t reduced to putting fear of Dog into sheep for a living.

But when you’re dealing with cows and calves, the problem isn’t the cow, it’s the calf. The cows are, in a vague sort of way, rational. When they set off at a run you can normally pinpoint the stimuli which provoked it. With calves they can just do it for no reason whatsoever.

The problem with calves running is not only that they are fast, but they’re not really bothered about directions or destinations, but are concentrating entirely on the running. So they can blunder through fences, end up in ditches and generally cause all sorts of problems. Not only that but as the dog tries to turn them they can run straight over her, or alternatively, they might stop abruptly, tentatively sniff the dog’s nose and then run wildly in an entirely different direction.

Once they start running, the only real solution is to put Mum back in the field, let her restore order and then bring Mum and calf out together.

Then you have the problem of gateways. Twenty of them will troop quietly through the gateway with no trouble, and one calf will somehow miss the gap and stand facing the hedge bawling for Mum. And Mum is standing on the far side of the hedge bawling back. Something like

“Help, help, I’m lost, I’m trapped, I’m alone in the world, doomed, doomed.”

And from the other side of the hedge, “So help me, don’t you make me come in there or you’ll be sorry.”

“Doomed, doomed, there’s no way out, help.”

“You wait ‘til your father gets home, we’ll see what he has to say about it.”

At the same time the dog is standing there muttering, “I can see why they eat grass, everything else is smarter than they are.”

So the solution to this problem is for a human to very quietly edge the calf along the hedge until it can see the gate again. If you’re lucky the calf will move slowly, a few steps at a time, and finally inspiration will strike and it’ll follow the others. If you’re unlucky it will set off at speed in some random direction and you’ll have to start the process all over again.


And in case you want more tales of Border collies and real life, have you read



Winter fence posts and a tired dog


In an ideal world you’d knock fence posts into the ground in winter or spring. This is because the ground is still wet and is comparatively soft. Not only that but because the ground is soft you can use a fence post with a larger diameter. I admit it’ll take more knocking in, but it’ll last longer so you might not have to replace it as soon.

Again, in an ideal world, if you have to knock fence posts in during the summer, you’d have a few slimmer ones about. Because, and I’m sure you’ve worked this one out for yourself, the ground is dry and hard.

Alas, it is not an ideal world. But then you might have noticed this for yourself. So we had a few cattle who tiptoed through the hedge and over the fence on the other side. Before I put them back in the right field I had to string up a breast wire, and that meant I had to hammer some posts in. Sixteen of them, and even with a steel bar to make a preparatory hole, it was harder work than it really needed to be.

So with the fence fixed, the cattle had to be collected from the next field, taken down onto the lane, along the lane and back into the field they should have been in. A simple enough task.

But cattle are more individualistic than sheep, and faster moving. Luckily I was on a quad, and Sal is a dog who can cheerfully run at 30km per hour, looking back over her shoulder to see if you’re keeping up. (She really shouldn’t, one time she ran into an elderly ewe and they both looked remarkably put out by it all.)
But we started the cattle moving, and between us, Sal and I sort of kept them in a group, and sort of kept them moving in the same direction. Then the inevitable happened, one decided not to play. She just put her head down and ran in a direction of her own choosing. Jess, who knew her trade, might have spotted it about to start its mad career, and if she got chance, would have restored order by a sharp snap to the nose. But by the time Sal had realised what was happening, the heifer was off.

So Sal and I set off after it. Sal managed to get ahead of it and turn it, and then it started running in a different direction. Again Sal and I set off after it. This is where the quad shows its mettle. It doesn’t get tired and you can just pull quietly ahead of the running animal. Eventually the heifer decided that it wasn’t as much fun as she thought it was going to be and turned back to her mates. Sal and I followed her back to the rest of them them, got them out of the gate and they thundered along the road and into the proper field. Job done.

We got home and normally Sal will stand somewhere in the middle of the yard with an expectant expression. This is the expression of a dog who rather hopes something else interesting is going to happen.

On this occasion she just flopped down next to the cattle trailer that serves as her kennel with a little sigh, and watched me put the quad away with a look of relief.

Given the amount of running she’d just been doing, I can see her point.



The tick-box fairy

'It's a 300 page government questionnaire about cutting back on bureaucracy!'

I was just reading a piece by Sir John Timpson. Somebody had written in saying that he was losing the will to live because of all the box ticking rubbish that came across his desk from compliance officers and others. The wise answer Sir John gave was hire a box ticking officer who did all that crap for the company and let everybody else get on with their real jobs.

To be fair, in agriculture, we get all sorts of utter rubbish poured down upon us from pretty well every inspectorate that can wrangle itself a rural arm. My ‘favourite’ example of this the dairy inspector who insisted that we had a separate ‘wash area’ in our dairy.
We’d never had one because frankly the back kitchen was more easily accessible from our milking parlour than the dairy was. But muppets are not to be denied, and even though he couldn’t actually show where the regulations said I had to do this, he was just going to ensure I failed the inspection until I installed one and would charge me £100 a time to do the re-inspection.

So we had our wash area. This consisted of a bucket, with a bar of soap in, and a towel. The bucket was covered in Clingfilm and was placed out of the way on top of the hot water boiler. There it stood, untouched, for ten years, until we gave up milking and it was disassembled and was used for something useful.
It’s the same as the instruction to wear a plastic apron whilst milking. We had a plastic apron hanging in the dairy. It had been left there by a relief milker who left one on every farm he milked at, so he didn’t forget it. I on the other hand never milked wearing a plastic apron in my life, but as the apron hung there in the dairy, another box was ticked.

Still in spite of sundry muppets and other time-wasters life goes on. I went to look sheep this morning. Because it was raining, Sal wasn’t sitting outside waiting for me. She appeared when I did, but saw no point in getting wet before it was necessary. We wandered down among the sheep and gave a little bit of cake to the small batch who’d lambed last.

Now yesterday we added to this small batch last year’s daughter of a ewe who was in the batch with this year’s two lambs. Because all four sheep are distinctively marked you could spot mother, daughter and this year’s lambs very easily.
Now if you keep your own replacements you’ll regularly stick a daughter back in the same flock as her mum, but in this case we could actually tell who was who. So I’ve been watching them to see if mum showed any signs of affection to older daughter. The answer is a resounding ‘no’. She is ‘last year’s lamb’ and is firmly kept at a distance because ‘this year’s lambs’ take priority. Motherly love is working, but is focussed on those who need it, not those who might feel entitled to exploit it.

Another interesting individual to watch was Sal. A couple of the older lambs tentatively play with her. Various ewes with young lambs disapprove of her entirely and shake their heads and stamp their feet. Generally they treat her with wary respect as becomes one with her dentition.

But, Sal quite likes the taste of the feed I’m putting out for these ewes and lambs. So when I put some on the floor, Sal will drift casually in and eat some. At this point, with noses in the feed, any wary respect goes out of the window and even the smallest and most timid lamb will cheerfully push her away as it tries to eat the nuts Sal is eating.

Oh and finally somebody pointed me to this article


Apparently St. John’s College in America, with two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe has turned its back on modern fashions in education and is merely doing what universities used to do which is teach students to think.

It’s an article worth reading, and reminded me of Cash Pickthall, who taught me history back in the Grammar School. He was a great one for using history to make us think.

I remember at the time thinking that if it caught on and everybody started thinking, that would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

Shear bolts, Border Collies and Summer


Every so often something happens and it reminds you of something else, and that reminds you of something else, until before you’ve finished you’re fifty years away and wondering where the time went.

Last night, just before it got dark, I thought I better water some bedding plants somebody has planted. As I stepped outside, Sal, (who currently holds the position of ‘working dog’) saw me, and sat up, the very picture of Border Collie attentiveness. There was no obvious pleading, there was just a dog portraying efficiency personified. Whatever I was about to do would obviously be done better with her assistance. So I let her out and she supervised the running of the universe whilst I got on with watering the bedding plants.

All dogs are, by definition, dogs, and that is not a dishonourable estate. Some dogs, and a lot of Border Collies, aspire to personhood. They combine being dogs and people. Sal seems to have achieved personhood.

It was her activities earlier in the day that took me back fifty years to our first dog, old Ben. Ben was technically my dog. Admittedly I was at school a lot so he would accompany my Dad. When my Dad was still working for my Grandfather, Ben did just that, he accompanied him. Once my Grandfather retired, Ben, without prompting (or more prompting that he’d had previously) threw himself into work. This means that we’re talking about the late 1960s here.

Ben wasn’t short of eccentric traits, and these entitled him to be regarded as ‘The’ dog, a person in his own right, and even, ‘a character.’ He was big for a Border Collie, and as well as working cattle, he also had oversight of tractors and suchlike machinery, feeling it was his responsibility to keep them moving.

One summer afternoon, it might even have been in the much hyped ‘summer of love’, we were making hay. One person was driving the tractor that pulled the baler; the others were loading the bales onto a trailer pulled by another tractor. And then the baler jammed. This was common enough; too much grass had gone into it and the baler couldn’t cope. Only in this case obviously there was too much strain and a shear bolt broke. So the driver would change the shear bolt and the others would drag the hay that was jamming up the works out of the baler. Now all this is caused by a shear bolt doing what it is designed to do, it’s the ‘fuse’, burning out before something more expensive does.

As an aside, there are a lot of shear bolts in agriculture, probably because so much stuff is operating in a difficult environment. Design engineers put them in to help protect the rest of the machine. It’s just that I wish they’d give some thought to just where they put them. Almost by definition, shear bolts will be replaced, comparatively regularly, by semi-skilled labour. We had one forage harvester where a shear bolt could only be changed if you lay on the floor underneath it and used spanners to tighten a bolt that was six inches in front of your face. What made this so tricky was that above the bolt was a drive train with several universal joints. Unfortunately the engineer who designed the drive didn’t realise that it was impossible to get a grease gun onto the grease nipples in these universal joints because of all the other stuff around them. So the only way we could keep it lubricated was to pour old oil along the drive train and hope it got in somewhere.

Now then add to this the fact that it’s a forage harvester and everything fills up with dry grass and dust, which is now covered in old oil. So when you lie underneath this lot to change the shear bolt, the slightest movement (such as tightening a bolt up) brings another shower of grass, dust and oil down on you.

As the one wearing glasses, I was the obvious person to do that job because less of it got in my eyes.

Anyway I’ve kept you talking and we can now go back to the baler, where my Dad has changed the shear bolt and the others have got the baler unjammed. Old Ben, as Border Collie on duty, has been sitting quietly watching the whole performance. Finally my Dad starts the tractor. As it starts to move forward, Ben runs in and nips the baler wheel to make sure it keeps going forward, and then proceeds to trot behind it to ensure it doesn’t stop again.

And yesterday I remembered this story again. It was another hot summer’s day. A hay day if ever there was one. At eight in the morning, Sal and I went out to fetch sheep in. In the interests of efficiency, I rode on the quad, and Sal didn’t.

Things were going reasonably well, we gathered the sheep up and moved them toward the gate. Finally the sheep reached the gate and at this point I stopped the quad and shouted to Sal to sit down. I wanted the ewes to see the gate and make their orderly way through it, which they can do better if they don’t feel they’re being chased.

The problem is that whilst some saw the gate and did go through, the others, deciding that they weren’t being chased, just stopped and looked about them in that somewhat supercilious manner sheep have.  So I honked the horn on the quad.

To our sheep, the horn is a signal that they’re supposed to be moving. Obviously there are times when  I drive through sheep in a field because I’m just going somewhere. In those cases, I don’t really want the sheep to do anything. So if I’m on the quad and do expect them to move, honking the horn occasionally is a signal to them to keep moving.

As I sat on the stationary quad, honking the horn so keep the ewes moving I heard a noise from behind me. I honked the horn again and this time saw what was going on. Knowing that the noise meant I expected stuff to move, Sal had run in behind the quad and snapped at the mudflaps to get it moving along with everybody else.


On an as another aside, there’s always ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks’ to get your teeth into

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.


It’s a sheep day


You can tell it’s on the warm side. Sal has dug herself a shallow depression in the ground to sit in! She’s pleased as punch with it now because it’s probably a bit damp and cool, but this is Cumbria, in another week it’ll be flooded.

So today is a sheep day. Ewes and lambs are gathered in. They were sitting in the shade of hedges, sprawling behind thistles, or alternatively, grazing in the middle of the field with expressions of bland unconcern.
Anyway we fetch them home. The ewes haven’t been clipped yet. This is mainly because firstly it was too wet to shear them, then it was too cold to shear them, then all the shearers were too busy silageing and doing other jobs. But it’s entirely possible that the ewes might get sheared this week.

All the time the thermometer is creeping up. When I walk them in, we have one ewe who is panting like an old dog. She’s obviously feeling the heat. She quietly stands in the shade when we get to the yard and watches us with casual indifference.

So we weigh the heaviest lambs, there are some ready to go. Then we worm the rest of the lambs, check their feet, put some fly spray on them to deter blowfly and stop them getting infested with maggots. Their mothers will be treated later, after they’ve been sheared. In a perfect world, once a sheep is sheared there’s nowhere for the flies to lay their eggs. Then as the wool starts to grow, you can dip them in something that’ll kill all the skin parasites they’ve got and provide them with some protection for the next few weeks.

It’s now distinctly hot, noon arrives and with it both mad dogs and Englishmen retire to the shade with the sheep that we’ve dealt with, leaving us out there to get on with it.

And in the middle of all this lot we get two walkers. Ladies with map and compass who are some distance from their chosen path. No, strangely enough it doesn’t pass over our silage pit. But still, we direct them the best way to pick up the path they’re trying to find and they disappear into the shimmering heat haze. If it gets any hotter, the next party to come this way will be riding camels!

Finally the last ones are done, we put the sheep back out onto grass and they disperse to eat or hide in the shade depending on whim and I’m in to get my dinner.

And somebody tries to interest me in going down to London. They must be mad.

Posturing political pygmies


I’m supposed to be promoting books and stuff but frankly I’m just too hacked off. You see, a lad I went to school with was killed as collateral damage in one of the IRA bombs. So I know what his family went through. So when political pygmies cavort on the corpses of the freshly dead, waving a blood soaked shroud to attract attention I’m beyond nauseated, I’m downright angry.

And now the dead are being dragged into it. Somebody has to be blamed and who better than your political opponents?
How stupid do these people think we are?
Yes we know who cut police numbers.

And yes, we know who hobnobbed with murdering thugs, and who wants to drag the police into years of public inquiries as they refight the battle of Orgreave. Just as we know who has attacked various measures taken to try and keep track of terrorists and intercept their messages. We also know who says that joining ISIS is no crime.

And before the police come over all sanctimonious, they didn’t seem to suffer from a shortage of manpower when it came to mounting televised raids on the homes of aging rock stars (Cliff Richard anybody?). Similarly they managed to find plenty of money and man-hours to pour into the investigations of the ‘credible and true’ fantasist ‘Nick’. Mind you more than one senior politician put pressure on them over that one because it looked as if it might embarrass his political opponents.

So, to put it bluntly, just bluidy grow up!


Shut up and try and maintain a dignified silence and after a couple of days then come out and start talking as if you were sensible adults capable of proper grown-up conversations. Because to put it bluntly, we’re not so short of posturing self-absorbed idiots that we need to offer 80K a year, plus expenses, to attract more.