‘Un-managing the land’: sheep make way for trees in Cumbria’s uplands
Sheep grazing has dominated the Howgill Fells for over a century, but with shifting agricultural subsidies and urgent calls to address biodiversity loss, change is coming
For William Wordsworth the Howgill Fells was a romantic landscape, for rewilders they could be home to wolves, and for farmer John Pratt, these hills are home. “I was hoping this day would never come. I shan’t say it will break my heart, but it will,” says Pratt, who is selling his sheep and retiring after 55 years of uplands farming. “I’ve had a flock of sheep since I was 14, so I’m ready for a break,” he adds.
The 69-year-old tenant farmer works seven days a week and takes six days of holiday a year. Since 1966 he has been renting Kilnmire Farm (with no heating in the house) on the edge of Ravenstonedale village in Cumbria with his wife, Hazel. He doesn’t drink alcohol (he’s Methodist) and doesn’t have a mobile phone because he “wouldn’t know how to use it”. He tried an olive for the first time in 2017. It’s a lifestyle none of his three children is willing to take on.