Update 3 March 2015: We are delighted that the Planning Inspectorate has called in the application by United Utilities for a 10km fence on the open fells above Thirlmere. The application will now go to public inquiry where all objectors will be allowed to present their views if they wish.

Thank you to everyone that wrote in. It is an unusual step for the Planning Inspectorate to call an inquiry so early in the process which is a reflection of the number of objections submitted. We still have a long way to go in fighting this battle, but thank you to everyone who submitted comments, as without your help this would not have happened.

The Lake District needs your help once more! We are asking you to take action by objecting at 9.6km fence proposed by United Utilities on the fells south west of Thirlmere.

What are we campaigning for?
The application has been submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. We are asking them to refuse the application at the present time to prevent harm to the landscape, cultural heritage and access.

Friends of the Lake District has three key concerns with this proposal:
• Lack of evidence to justify the need for the fence at the current time.
• Detrimental impacts on landscape, access and cultural heritage (including on potential World Heritage Site).
• Lack of a long term plan which means the likelihood is that this temporary fence will be permanent.

What is proposed?
Thirlmere is classed as a Water Safeguard Zone under the European Water Framework Directive and this proposal aims to prevent a reduction in raw water quality. United Utilities is proposing to erect a new 9.6km fence at the south western end of Thirlmere which would enclose 866 hectares of land. It would run along the boundary of the Whelpside, Steel End, West Head, Armboth, Bleaberry and Wythburn Fells Common. The fence would remain for 15 years. As the land is registered common, United Utilities has to apply to the Planning Inspectorate for permission for works on common land.

Why is a fence proposed?
United Utilities is concerned about an upward trend in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) – this makes the water browner and costs the company to treat it. It is caused by degraded peat and other organic material being washed from eroded and overgrazed land. The fence would allow a reduction in stock grazing which would help reduce erosion and the amount of peat and organic matter in watercourses.

What is the evidence a fence is required now?
Data shows that water quality measured through dissolved organic carbon is reducing. However, data is only collected for the whole catchment at two locations and so there is no specific data on water quality for each tributary stream, or on the effect of each soil and habitat type on water quality. The sources of dissolved organic carbon within the catchment are therefore not well known. Schemes have already been implemented in the catchment that will have a positive impact on water quality in Thirlmere, such as woodland planting and stock reduction, but it will be many years before the effects of these schemes are known and if more work elsewhere is needed.

What impacts will the fence have on the landscape?
This is a wild, remote and tranquil landscape which provides a contrast to some of the busier areas of fell nearby. Whilst there are some rusty iron posts from a previous fence, it is free of man made features and intrusions. The adjacent Armboth Common is littered with fences that were meant to be temporary, but still remain in place. A 9.5km fence will detract from the landscape quality of this area, and especially the feeling of wilderness and tranquillity. The proposed fence is perhaps one of the greatest threats the Lake District has faced to the traditional openness and freedom of the fells in recent years

What impacts will the fence have on the cultural heritage of the area?
A key feature of the core of the Lake District fells is that they are open and that in theory a sheep or person could travel across the Lake District from the north to the south and west unhindered. For centuries the commons have been managed by communal management whereby common rights holders manage the fell together, gathering the hefted sheep on the same day and meet once or twice a year to exchange stray sheep. The erection of boundary fences is a significant step in breaking down this communal management and hefting (Hefting – the instinct in some breeds of keeping to a certain a small local area (heft) throughout their lives. Allows different farmers in an extensive landscape such as moorland to graze different areas without the need for fences, each ewe remaining on her particular area. Lambs usually learn their heft from their mothers. Read more), and once it is gone, it is unlikely to be reinstated.

What impacts will the fence have on access?
The whole of this massif (connected group of mountains) is open access land, in addition to the rights of way that run over it including the popular Wainwright Coast to Coast route. Access points through the fence will be provided, but the fence will have a detrimental impact on the quality of the recreational experience and especially on feelings of remoteness and tranquillity. Many walkers will be negatively affected each year. There may be more erosion pressure as people converge to follow a fence line.

Are there any alternatives?
Following concern from organisations, United Utilities proposed a shorter fence, but have decided there are no feasible alternatives to that proposed. Another alternative would be to wait and collect more data for a more informed decision, which may allow more targeted solutions, but that is not proposed by United Utilities.

What long term future management of the area is proposed?
The future of upland farming and associated funding is unpredictable and there are no long terms plans for this area. The fence is supposedly temporary, but the likelihood is that if the proposed fencing is removed after 15 years, the habitats and water quality would again deteriorate and so permanent fencing would be needed. This massif is already littered with fencing that was meant to be temporary but has not been removed.There is no realistic long term plan in place to give us confidence that the fence would only be temporary.

Our view on the proposals
Friends of the Lake District objects to the erection of a 9.5km in this wild, tranquil landscape for the following reasons:-
• At present, a lack of data to justify the need for the fence relating to water quality for each tributary; no detailed soil, vegetation, habitat mapping or condition assessments; and no assessment of the impacts of work already done.
• The fence will have a significant detrimental impact on the landscape, tranquillity and sense of remoteness of the area; on its cultural heritage in terms of impacts on communal management of the commons and loss of a huge tract of open fell; and on the experience of users of the rights of way and access land.
• There are no long term plans for the future management of this massif and no plans for what may happen after the 15 year life of the fence, whether it has met its aims or not. The proposals do not tackle all the causes of erosion, e.g. rights of way degradation.

What can you do?
United Utilities has submitted an application for the fencing to the Planning Inspectorate. The public have until 16 February to comment on the proposals. The Planning Inspectorate will only refuse the application or call a hearing if there are significant levels of objections.

If you share our concerns, then please write to the Planning Inspectorate at the address below setting out your concerns – you may wish to use some of the points listed above. Please note that standard letters may be treated as one objection, so it is important to use some of your own words and thoughts.

Plans of the proposed fence line are available for view at the Moot Hall in Keswick and Barney's Newsbox in Broadgate, Grasmere, and people are encouraged to make comments to the planning inspectorate by February 16. 

You can also view the documents here:

Map of the proposed fence
Rationale for the proposed fence
Letter and notice for the fence proposal
Section 38 application

Please write or email the Planning Inspectorate stating that you refer to United Utilities proposal to erect fencing on Whelpside, Steel End, West Head, Armboth, Bleaberry and Wythburn Fells Common at :-
The Planning Inspectorate, Rm 3/25B Hawk Wing,Temple Quay House, 2 The Square,
Bristol BS1 6PN.
Email: [email protected]