THE system of common land in Cumbria dating back to the 13th century is “in danger of disappearing” if the Brexit ‘transition period’ is not managed correctly.

That is the stark warning which will be issued by leading uplands and common land expert Dr Julia Aglionby at a talk in Ambleside next week.

Common land is privately-owned but comes with ‘rights of common’, often to graze animals. According to the Foundation for Common Land, of which Dr Aglionby is executive director, it is often land with ‘low agricultural potential’.

Once Brexit goes ahead, the system of direct payments from the European Union (EU) will be phased out, to be replaced with a reformed system which environment secretary Theresa Villiers said would be “based on public money for public goods”. Examples of ‘public goods’ include peatland restoration and woodland planting.

However, there are concerns at the Foundation for Common Land about the impact this could potentially have for ‘commoners’ in Cumbria, where the majority of common land is in upland areas.

Viv Lewis, programmes manager, said: “We are talking about marginal farms, marginal land where there’s actually very little opportunity to do anything different.” She added: “Commoners don’t have 100 per cent control over the land. Therefore it is very difficult for them to make changes.”

According to Dr Aglionby, common land accounts for 28 per cent of the Lake District and is “hugely important” to the national park, “providing the cultural landscape” which attracts millions of visitors each year. Unless the transition period for Brexit is handled correctly, she says, this common land is “in danger of disappearing”.

She added, however, that Cumbrian farmers were “extraordinarily adaptable” but warned that those who rejected the Government funding and tried 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,” she said.

Jez Westgarth, manager of the National Trust’s Lake District Future Farming Programme, said: “We agree with Dr Aglionby that a new way of funding this important way of farming needs to be done sensitively and well,” adding: “We think farmers should be recognised for all the benefits their management of the commons brings, including traditional farming, being good for nature and helping to tackle climate change.

“It will need innovative solutions, trust and consensus.”

Dr Aglionby’s talk - ‘commons for the 21st century’ - is taking place at the University of Cumbria’s Percival Theatre, Ambleside, on January 23. It begins at 6pm and tickets can be booked online at

Andrea Meanwell, the Lake District National Park Authority’s farming officer, said: “We are currently working with farmers and other partner organisations. We aim to secure a package of public funding for sustainable hill farming and land management in the Lake District, and public payments for public goods for natural and cultural aspects.”