ONE of Cumbria’s World Heritage cultural assets, the 1,000-year-old system of ‘commoning’, is in danger of disappearing.

Dr Julia Aglionby, one of the country’s most influential uplands and common land specialists, has set a timescale of just eight years for the failure of ancient common land which dates back to the signing of Magna Carta in 1215.

The Armathwaite farmer and Professor of Practice at University of Cumbria (UoC) will share her stark warning at a public lecture this month that if this happens it will have a significant impact on the Lake District.

Dr Aglionby will explain that with the end of EU Common Agricultural Policy payments in sight, new government funding for ‘public benefit rather than food production’ provided the only credible alternative.

She said: “English commons are hugely important and provide more public benefits than any other land. In the Lake District, they account for 28 per cent, heavily walked by visitors and providing the cultural landscape sought by 19 million visitors a year.

“Nationally, despite covering just three per cent of our country, commons make up 39 per cent of all Open Access land and are home to many SSSI areas designated for nature and ancient monuments.

“Defra has acknowledged that commoners, those who manage and work the land, are more dependent on support payments than any other livestock farmers.

“But unless we get the transition period right, the 1,000-year-old system of ‘commoning’ in Cumbria – recognised in the Lake District as being a World Heritage cultural asset – is in danger of disappearing.”

Dr Aglionby said her talk would outline how the present system of EU payments would be replaced with a new contract between government and land managers, where public benefit consideration replaced food production.

Also executive director of the Foundation for Common Land, she added: “Cumbrian farmers are extraordinarily adaptable, so it’s likely we will see them adjusting to access the new grant scheme.

“Those who reject this new agenda and try 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.

“If we can get this right, the future is bright for national parks, but it needs more collective governance and better ways of decision-making.”

Dr Aglionby’s talk, ‘Commons for the 21st Century’, will be held at UoC’s Percival Theatre on its Ambleside campus, next Thursdayon January 23, starting at 6pm, and it is open to farmers, land managers, environmentalists and any other interests.

It is the first in a series of lectures on behalf of the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas. Places can be booked on:

Dr Aglionby has been part of a team of experts working on a new commons council which will manage and protect 60,000 hectares of common land across Cumbria and Northumberland.

Commoners managing the land have been working with the landowners, Defra and Natural England, to get the council up and running. It will be the third of its kind in England, following in the footsteps of Brendon Hills in Devon and Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

Commoners and landowners will elect council members to make binding rules on issues such as exercising of rights of common, unlawful boundaries and removing unlawfully grazing animals. It is hoped these legally-binding rules will help where commoners, landowners and others cannot agree about how to manage land.

An establishment order will be finalised which will set out exactly how the council will be run.