A farmer has launched a petition to protect the Cumbrian fells from a Ministry of Defence (MOD) ‘land grab’.
The MOD has applied for ownership of 4,200 hectares of common land covering Murton, Hilton, Burton and Warcop fells under a rarely-used process known as ‘enclosure’.
It is the biggest enclosure attempted since the 1800s, and if successful, would leave farmers unable to graze a major part of the Pennines.
The decision to pursue an enclosure has come as a double blow because commoners were promised during an earlier round of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) in 2001 that the land would always remain on the register.
At the time, the MOD told farmers it needed extra firing range for the Warcop Training Area as centres elsewhere in the world were being shut down due to budget cuts.
Now, the MOD claims the limited grazing taking place – there are only six licensed graziers – poses a threat to its continued use of the fells for training purposes.
John McDarren, secretary of the Hilton Commoners and the farmer who started the petition, said: “Prior to 2001, some 12,000 sheep were grazed on these fells. The licences allow 2,400 sheep to graze.
“Under MOD management, these fells are drastically under-grazed. Natural England has expressed concern as huge areas are becoming overgrown with scrub and consequently are ungrazable.
“But our main concern is if the MOD is successful in removing these fells from the register, when they have no further use for them as a ricochet area for the ranges, they could sell the land as private land – for development, forestry or grouse moors.
“If they are allowed to remain as common land then the farmers can regain full use of the grazing and the public can enjoy access for walking and our countryside.
“Common land is part of our natural heritage and should be protected at all costs.”
An MOD spokesman told Farmers Guardian it had ‘no plans to sell the land’.
“We have applied to deregister land at Warcop Training Area to safeguard the MOD’s ability to train,” the spokesman added.
A public inquiry into the matter was launched in mid-September and will reconvene on October 30.
To sign the petition, click HERE.