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Sustainable Upland Management at Haweswater

13 May 2016, Penrith

Lee Schofield (RSPB) and John Gorst (United Utilities) gave up a day of their time to welcome members of the North West England Section of CIEEM to RSPB Haweswater. 

Haweswater is known for the last breeding pair of Golden Eagles in England, with the lonely male recently disappearing (presumed dead). The area is now being managed to demonstrate a more sustainable way of managing the uplands. 

In 2012, the RSPB took over the tenancies of Naddle and Swindale Farms, owned by United Utilities.  These two holdings, together with associated grazing land (commons) cover about 3000 hectares.  The RSPB is working in partnership with United Utilities to trial different approaches to upland management with the aim of producing high-quality livestock alongside a range of public benefits, including safeguarding water quality, reducing potential for flood events and enhancing biodiversity.

Upland farms are facing challenging economic times, with many dependent on subsidies, and recent farming practices having resulted in significant negative environmental impacts.  There is, therefore, an urgent need to investigate more sustainable ways of managing the uplands. 

United Utilities is increasingly concerned about an ongoing decline in the quality of untreated water reaching reservoirs due to land drainage and high grazing levels resulting in more soil (particularly peat) washing into reservoirs.  Attempts to address this issue on the estate have resulted in the planting of tens of thousands of trees and the blocking up of 47km of moorland drains. These activities will have the added benefit of slowing run-off and attenuating future storm events.

In addition to these objectives the restoration of a heavily modified stretch of Swindale Beck is ongoing with associated problems resulting from recent storm and flooding events as well as the challenges of working with, and adjacent to a SSSI. It is hoped that this restoration will provide further flood alleviation, as well as enhancing the flood-meadow SSSI.

The visit provided an opportunity to witness many of the above activities and discuss issues surrounding landscape-scale management initiatives.  One particular issue in such areas is local opinion that these changes are detrimental to the landscape, culture and economic viability. It is hoped that this and other similar projects will demonstrate, through evidence, how a sustainable management regime can offer significant benefits to all stakeholders.

Many thanks to Lee and John and we’ll see you in 5 years (if not before) to see how things are looking then.


Author: Andy Whitfield CEnv MCIEEM, North West England Section Vice Convenor
(with significant “borrowings” from Farming with Nature at RSPB Haweswater, RSPB & United Utilities)


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