For the first time this year, it felt like Spring while I was feeding our sheep this morning. Earlier this week we had heard the first lapwings, and our woodpecker is back, but today there was that change in the light, dare I say a warmness in the air, and could the grass be growing?

But it’s not just this putting a spring in my step. There have been two significantly positive events which should have wide-ranging benefits for our landscapes.

Firstly, the developers proposing to erect 8 zip wires over the open waters of Thirlmere withdrew their application, citing opposition from the MoD and concerns for low flying RAF jets.

Although this decision did mean that the National Park would be protected from this inappropriate and damaging development, some feared that if the RAF were seen to win the day, important arguments regarding the Special Purposes of National Parks and the planning rules put in place would be overlooked.

But “Hooray” and “Hoorah”! The National Park Authority has released the Report they would have presented to the Planning Committee and this shows that the Planning Officers would have recommended the application for REFUSAL on grounds of harm to the landscape.

The Lake District National Park Planning Team has heeded the views of Friends of the Lake District and has recognised the significance of our National Parks and the planning process in place to protect these special and valuable landscapes. It considers the site to be of exceptionally high landscape value in a National Park and World Heritage Site, with “very limited capacity to accommodate change without compromising its key characteristics comprised within its special qualities”. 

The proposals “would lead to a substantial to severe adverse landscape effect and a substantial adverse visual effect taking account of the landscape characteristics of the area which are defined by a strong sense of tranquillity, remoteness and lack of development”, and fail to follow “national policy for development in protected landscapes”. 

They also said that the proposals would “fail to respect the significance of Thirlmere and its role in the formation of the early conservation movement”, would “result in substantial harm to the special qualities and Outstanding Universal Value of the Lake District and would not result in substantial public benefits which would outweigh the identified harm”, and list an impressive number of Policies the development would have contravened.

The Report does mention Cumbria County Council’s Highway objection and that of the MoD, but these were numbers 2 and 3 behind Landscape.

Does this matter? Of course it does. It is important that these landscape principles are recognised, established and acted upon. These are what will ensure that these special landscapes will be looked after into the future. The RAF or traffic concerns will not save the day everywhere.

And secondly, while this application was being withdrawn, Environment Secretary Michael Gove was speaking to the NFU AGM.

He is aware that “upland sheep farmers in Cumbria” … “fear that the future is particularly challenging for them”. That the “prospect of public support diminishing or even disappearing makes many wonder how they can go on”.

He believes that future methods of agricultural support should value the culture in agriculture, and how our upland farmers underpin the beauty and resilience of our countryside and rural communities.

He speaks of “the continuation of farming in communities”, of “men and women … hefted in those hills just as much as the sheep they care for” and how “preserving profitable farm businesses in those communities is just as much a public good as investment in anything”.

Many millions appreciate the glorious landscape around us in the Lake District and Cumbria.. How many even wonder how it appears so attractive and well-kept in such a remote area where the climate can be so severe for so much of the year? How many give a thought to the people who maintain these wonderful views by living and by earning their livings there? The results of their labour and management may clearly be seen, but it is rare these days for anyone to be spotted working on the sides of the fell.

This impression of an empty countryside is wrong and misleading. It suggests it has always been there and always will. But this landscape, and everything in it, is tended by someone, and may have been created by them and their ancestors.

Everyone celebrates the scenery, the wildlife, the buildings and the stone walls. But these are simply the stage. Without the people with their skills, their animals, and their understanding of living and working in this particular environment, the landscape would be considerably different

Just after the Second World War Parliament spent many hours debating the future of the hills and their inhabitants of “independence, individual initiative and individual enterprise”. In 1946 MPs decided that they wanted to encourage the production of food on the hills, but they also considered increased forestation, the question of access to hill land by the general public and even nationalisation of the land. Now, production often loses money, we still talk about planting trees, open access is a reality, and nationalisation of land ownership is no longer an issue.

MPs spoke then not only of “the hardy sheep and cattle coming off the hill farms” but also the “characteristically hardy, intelligent, and self-reliant, though dwindling, population”. They were keen to ensure the amenities to keep farming families in the hills and allow their communities, no matter how small, to survive and prosper.

So is Mr Gove of the same mind? Will he put the policies and mechanisms in place to ensure our communities, no matter how small, survive and prosper?

That would bode well for our landscapes as well. And with the Lake District National Park Planning Team confirming the significance of National Parks, maybe, to quote another famous politician speaking in the 1940s, we “may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands”