Farmers have been left infuriated by a Ministry of Defence (MOD) plan to deregister 4,200 hectares of common land in the Cumbrian fells using the ‘enclosure’ process.
It is the first time an enclosure has been attempted since 1914, and if successful, would transfer ownership of the land to the MOD, leaving 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.
William Patterson, who is chairman of the Hilton and Murton Commoners Committee, is one of the graziers who was bought off the common.
He said: “That happened just at the time we were going through foot and mouth. We were one of the farms which went down and we were cleaned out, but this had a much bigger effect on us than going down with foot and mouth.
“Back then, there was a public hearing and one of the promises which was made by the MOD was our common would never be taken off the commons register.
“Once it has been taken off the register, it becomes private property, which means if they ever did stop training, it would be available to sell.”
After the early 2000s CPOs were completed, farmers were given restricted rights to use the land through grazing licences, but the number of days they are able to gather sheep for tupping or lambing has reduced from about 50 days a year to 12.
The enclosure, if approved, would cut off even this limited access.
Julia Aglionby, executive director of the Foundation for Common Land (FCL), one of the organisations which will oppose the application at a public inquiry in Kendal on September 13 and 14, urged the MOD to reconsider.
She said: “The MOD is wasting Government money pursuing an application which we and many others consider to have no legal merit and is completely unnecessary to achieve their military training objectives.
“Common land is an incredibly rare and precious natural asset and this application threatens a significant amount of that asset.”
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.