Unless post Brexit policy protects ancient common land dating back to the Magna Carta the system in Cumbria could fail within eight years with significant impact on the Lake District.
The stark warning will be shared at a public lecture this month by one of the country’s most influential uplands and common land specialists, Dr Julia Aglionby.
The Professor of Practice at University of Cumbria (UoC) will explain that with the end of EU Common Agricultural Policy payments in sight, new government funding for ‘public benefit rather than food production’ provided the only credible alternative.
She explained: “English commons are hugely important and provide more public benefits than any other land. In the Lake District, they account for 28 percent, heavily walked by visitors and providing the cultural landscape sought by 19 million visitors a year.
“Nationally, despite covering just three percent of our country, commons make up 39 percent of all Open Access land and are home to many SSSI areas designated for nature and ancient monuments.
“Defra has acknowledged commoners, those who manage and work the land, are more dependent on support payments than any other livestock farmers.
“But unless we get the transition period right, the 1,000-year-old system of ‘commoning’ in Cumbria – recognised in the Lake District as being a World Heritage cultural asset – is in danger of disappearing.”
Dr Aglionby said her talk would outline how the present system of EU payments would be replaced with a new contract between government and land managers, where public benefit consideration replaced food production.
Also executive director of the Foundation for Common Land, she added: “Cumbrian farmers are extraordinarily adaptable, so it’s likely we will see them adjusting to access the new grant scheme.
“Those who reject this new agenda and try to farm their way out of Brexit would be adopting a high-risk strategy. Due to low prices for livestock, very few hill farms could break-even without government support.
“If we can get this right, the future is bright for national parks, but it needs more collective governance and better ways of decision making.”
Dr Aglionby’s talk, Commons for the 21st Century, will be held at UoC’s Percival Theatre, Ambleside campus, on January 23, starting at 6pm and is open to farmers, land managers, environmentalists and any other interests.