A CONSERVATION charity associated with farming in the Lakes for over a century has appointed a programme manager to help secure a future for its 90 farms.

The National Trust says it has a special responsibility for its Lake District farms, which are part of a unique upland farming system, and one reason why the area attracts millions of visitors and is a World Heritage Site. The charity owns a fifth of the Lake District national park, equivalent to more than 54,000 football pitches, including 14 farms which belonged to Beatrix Potter.

With all the challenges facing farming, from climate change to financial viability, the National Trust is looking ahead for long-term solutions with their tenant farmers, industry experts, and partners.

Jez Westgarth, who has taken up the post of future farming programme manager, previously worked at the Environment Agency. Jez, who lives near Penrith, held national and local roles with the EA, including responsibilities in Cumbria and Lancashire. He brings experience of partnership working and was most recently involved with Defra on their 25-year Environment Plan and Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) test and trials.

Mr Westgarth said: “Working with our tenant farmers, we want farms and farming to stand out for the great public benefits they bring, including nature, beauty and history for everyone for ever. Farmers should be recognised for their hard work and innovation in delivering this delicate balance, whilst running successful farm businesses.

“Over the next five years we will be investing in our farmhouses and infrastructure, strengthening relationships, supporting new entrants and helping to create opportunities for farm business diversification. Ultimately, it’s about viable farms producing good food, where nature flourishes, soils are healthier and the land is more robust in the face of climate change, all the while sustaining the globally significant attributes that make the Lake District a World Heritage Site. Something that should be celebrated by everyone that lives in or visits the area.”

The new future farming programme manager has been out and about meeting farm tenants in his first few weeks, and says he’s learning a lot.

“It’s clear from my early conversations that our farming tenants really want to be part of shaping the future for our farms. They have lots of great ideas which makes me excited about what we can achieve.

“We need to work together to find solutions, I am not here to tell farmers how to farm,” he said.

“I have seen some great examples of farm diversification, nature-friendly farming and know of tenants involved in projects to slow the flow of water through the landscape to benefit people and nature.

“We know it is tough right now for the farming community, with still much uncertainty about the future, but there will be opportunities for farmers. We have also been heartened by new people coming forward to take on our farms with six re-let in the last year,” added Mr Westgarth.

To meet Mr Westgarth and to hear more about the Trust’s future farming plans, a free event is being hosted by the National Trust on Thursday, February 27 in the Fairfield Restaurant at Cockermouth Auction, starting at 7pm. Anyone interested should email lakesfuturefarming@nationaltrust.org.uk