Friends of the Lake District is a landscape charity based in Kendal. It has owned and managed the eastern side of the Helm at Oxenholme since 2008. It’s a vantage point that provides amazing 3600 views of the surrounding countryside near Kendal. 

Popular with residents and visitors alike, the eastern side of the Helm has a unique character thanks largely to the efforts of the charity and its hard working volunteers. It is home to fell ponies and cattle who graze the fellside helping to control the growth of gorse and bracken; providing valuable habitat for many ground nesting birds. Trees are planted to encourage wildlife, bracken is ‘bashed’ to control its spread, walls repaired and its upkeep all carried out by volunteers giving up their time to care for eastern side of the Helm. 

When Friends of the Lake District purchased the land, it had no public access. One of the charity’s main purposes is to ‘secure a landscape that is accessible and enjoyed by all’ and its first action was to provide informal access to the land before voluntarily dedicating it under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) as Open Access Land in 2018. 

It is a popular venue close to Kendal town centre, welcoming thousands of visitors each year but recently, it has become a site used by a number of commercial dog walking businesses generating a growing number of complaints from walkers, families and legitimate dog owners that enjoy open access to this piece of land. 

Douglas Chalmers, Chief Executive at Friends of the Lake District, 

“Initially and then during lockdown, we took a tolerant view of this commercial activity on our land because of the difficult circumstances for everyone, but the use by commercial dog walking companies is increasing and so are the complaints we are receiving as the land owner. 

“As a landscape charity, we have always worked to secure a landscape that is accessible and available for everybody to enjoy. Unfortunately, this illegal use of our land has become untenable and its impact unfair on legitimate users, wildlife and the Fell Ponies and cattle that graze the Helm. 

“It means that we are now forced to monitor the use of this land and if we become aware of any use by commercial dog walkers, notify the police and appropriate SLDC Officers who can impose penalty fines”. 

The complaints received by the charity have included reports of groups of unleashed groups of dogs chasing fell ponies. There has been disturbance to nesting birds and foxes at the site. Walkers, families and private dog owners have reported incidents of aggressive behaviour and intimidation from large groups of dogs inadequately controlled or supervised. 

The charity has contacted a number of local commercial dog walking businesses to advise them that the site is now being monitored and its use by commercial dog walking businesses now subject to penalty fines as set out in the CROW Act. 

The CROW Act has specific rules, only allowing access to people on foot and has certain other stipulations. One of these states that, the right of access is excluded in respect of a person who, 'engages in any activity which is organised or undertaken (whether by him or another) for any commercial purpose.' (Schedule 2, para. 1(t)). Walking dogs as part of a commercial dog walking/sitting business comes within this exclusion.