COMMENT: Mounting concerns over Blencathra - but it's not all bad news

First published in Opinion

MOUNTAINS remain a key talking point in the Lake District.

That is natural, of course, because they are a dominant part of the iconic Cumbrian landscape and, along with the lakes, help to attract millions of visitors annually.

Perhaps we will see even more this year a result of the Earl of Lonsdale’s controversial decision to sell Blencathra. This has attracted amazing global recognition that would have cost the county’s tourism businesses a fortune to buy in the normal publicity market.

It has also led to 6,000 donation pledges worth a cool million pounds towards the earl’s guide price for the mountain.

The donors, understandably, believe that Blencathra should not be in private hands but owned by the public so it can be cared for to the benefit of all. For that to happen, the earl should give campaigners a fair chance to raise the rest and seal the deal.

But in the shadow of Blencathra, there is a second controversial landscape story, which was also prompted by the Lonsdale family.

That is the decision by Lonsdale Estates Trust to block commoners’ applications for the Upper Entry Level Stewardship scheme on Grasmere Common, effectively reducing their much-needed income and potentially leading to the removal of sheep from the fell.

The trust says it has valid reasons. However, critics in the farming fraternity fear this could be a step towards so-called re-wilding of the Lakeland fells, an hitherto theoretical threat which is bothering more and more hill farmers. They are right to be concerned.

But it is not all controversial news in the Lakes mountain scene. Another story this week celebrates the area’s links with the wider mountaineering fraternity - the Kendal Mountain Festival, which been awarded gold in the VisitEngland Awards.

This is a tremendous result - and great news to help balance an otherwise worrying week for our peaks.

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