ONCE a month as regular as clockwork Beatrix Potter would visit the tenants of her Lakeland farms in her trademark clogs and shawl to chat.

Not only was she an accomplished children’s author and illustrator, she was a passionate and knowledgeable farmer and conservationist – long before conservation became popular and fashionable.

Since an early meeting at Wray Castle, Potter became a good friend of Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley – one of the three founder members of the conservation charity, the National Trust.

When she died in 1943 she left 4,000 acres of land and countryside to the trust, as well as 14 farms, believing it would preserve the style of hill farming she so loved.

Fast-forward and the trust is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and is currently investing around £2.2m in repairing and refurbishing nine farms, including two of 14 Beatrix Potter farms – just one of its ambitious anniversary plans for Cumbria.

Others include new exhibitions, a 250th birthday celebration for William Wordsworth, a poetry competition and the unveiling of an art installation and continuing restoration of the magical woodland Pleasure Ground.

In Cumbria, the trust’s estate spans 46,000 hectares, equivalent to over 54,000 football pitches, and is best-known for its stately homes and country mansions. But what is probably less known is that, as a result of decades of gradual acquisition, it owns many of the iconic features of the Lake District landscape, including England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, which was gifted to them by Lord Leconfield in 1919. It also owns Great Gable, the seventh-highest mountain.

Like so many national treasures, it inspires strong feelings and has weathered its fair share of storms in the county, like being embroiled in a furious dispute over Thorneythwaite Farm in Borrowdale, which was put on the market in 2016 in two parts: land, containing a flock of rare breed Herdwick sheep, and farm buildings. The trust bought the land, but not the property, despite criticism from outraged farmers who feared a threat to their way of life.

Now, as the charity strives to maintain its status as a British institution, it has taken on a new conservation effort – to attract younger people.

With this in mind, the conservation charity’s head of operations for Cumbria and North Lancashire, Jeremy Barlow, is taking up the challenge, and he tells The Cumberland News about their work, how people can get involved and their anniversary plans.

He says that in meeting their founders’ aims they are working harder than ever to respond to climate change, to look after nature and to help even more people enjoy the places in their care.

“Ambitious river landscape projects are underway to restore healthy rivers and catchments to benefit people and nature. We continue to build sensitive hydro power schemes to produce green energy and, with our tenant farmers, we are increasing conservation initiatives as part of running a successful farm business.”

As a result of this work, says Mr Barlow, nature is responding with The Flower of Cumberland blooming across Lakeland farms thanks to changes in grazing regimes, together with spring orchids in Arnside and Silverdale. Rare species and mammals are also thriving in meadows at Hill Top Farm, which inspired many of Beatrix Potter’s much-loved characters, as a result of a 25-year project.

“Funding from Sport England means we are helping more people get active in the outdoors. At Fell Foot at the southern end of Windermere, there’s a new club house and year-round activities began with a New Year’s Day dip,” said Mr Barlow.

Each year the trust invests £10 million in Cumbria, and Mr Barlow says every stay, visit and cup of tea, each ticket and gift purchase, has contributed to that sum. “Crucial support comes as gifts, legacies and through the Lake District Appeal too. Seventy hay meadows on our farms are being restored through an award of £35,000 from a trust and in Arnside and Silverdale legacies fund a ranger and a visitor experience officer,” he added.

A helping hand comes from around 2,000 volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life, who describe it as “a healing and rewarding experience as they mend, fix, nurture and enthuse”.

“At Fell Foot, alongside more traditional volunteering opportunities, there are youth rangers and sixth formers – find out more by booking on to one of Fell Foot’s February taster days,” said Mr Barlow.

“The trust has a unique stake in farming in the Lake District, not least because it shapes a landscape that is loved by millions, from its dry-stone walls and traditional farm buildings to Herdwick sheep. Given all the challenges facing farming from climate change to financial viability we are looking ahead for solutions with industry experts, partners and our tenant farmers,” he added.

“As we head into 2020 there are many new things for visitors to see. Climb to the roof of the Solar Tower at Sizergh for a birds’ eye view of three counties. Visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead, where there’s a new exhibition of original artwork, illustrations and letters. And at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth there’s the 250th birthday of William Wordsworth to celebrate. Find out how his wild, outdoor upbringing shaped his life, and for young people there’s a poetry competition to enter by February 24. At Allan Bank, we’ll be unveiling a specially commissioned art installation and continuing the restoration of our magical woodland Pleasure Ground.”

Last week, in a landmark speech to mark the 125-year milestone, the trust’s director general Hilary McGrady announced a series of new initiatives including planting and establishing 20 million new trees in ten years, as part of their plan to step up the battle against climate change.

Locking up carbon by maintaining precious peat bogs, investing in renewable energy and reducing the trust’s carbon footprint are among the measures to hit the net zero target.

A year-long campaign to inspire people to engage with nature and address a ‘worrying disconnect’ as well as new plans for culture and heritage programmes have also been announced. Activities will include tree planting, river and beach cleaning, birdwatching, picnics in the wild, cloud watching and foraging for food, yoga and dancing in the great outdoors.