Should the public buy Blencathra?

Posted by Carey Davies on 07/05/2014
Blencathra viewed from the megalithic Castlerigg stone circle

Blencathra is up for sale. Its owner hopes it might be bought by “some daft Russian”, but a campaign hopes to rally the public to buy the mountain instead. Could this ambitious idea work? And would the actual benefits outweigh the cost?

It’s one of the most beloved places in Lakeland, cited by Everest climber Doug Scott as his favourite mountain in the world and once described as “the perfect hill walker’s hill.”

Now Blencathra is going up for sale. Its owner Hugh Lowther, the eighth Earl of Lonsdale, is hoping to sell it in a bid to clear a £9 million inheritance tax bill.

Adopting an unconventional approach to salesmanship, Lowther told the Daily Mail he hoped he would find “some daft Russian” or Chinese buyer. But a campaign has been started to rally the public to purchase the mountain instead.

Leicester-based BMC member has started the website Buy Blencathra, which describes the sale as: “A once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase a mountain and donate it back to the nation in perpetuity.”

Protection

The sale of Blencathra might sound drastic, but as far as access for walkers and recreational enthusiasts go, little will change regardless of who owns it. The mountain is designated as Open Access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act, meaning recreational users can roam where they like (subject to certain conditions).

Various levels of environmental protection also apply to Blencathra by virtue of it falling within a national park and being part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so any potential development on the mountain would face very stiff legal obstacles.

Andy concedes this point, saying: “It’s a bit of a strange one in that at the end of the day, whoever buys it, the access will stay the same, and very little change is allowed under planning laws. Quite a few people have said ‘what’s the point?’

“In one respect there is no point at all, other than the mountain would not belong to an individual any more, it would belong to the community and the people as a whole. It’s quite an ideological point, in a way – to me it’s more the symbolic than practical value.

“My precedent for it was the 1923 purchase of Great Gable by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club. I thought, could we do something similar with Blencathra? It’s also a hundred years since the start of the First World War, and I thought it could be a very apt way to mark that.”

Andy’s campaign has generated early interest, with the website attracting 800 hits in two days and the Buy Blencathra Twitter feed gaining more than 250 followers.

“At this stage I’m just trying to get the idea off the ground and create a forum where people can gather views,” Andy says. “If we did try to progress we need to get a decent amount of people involved with the right expertise – I couldn’t do it single-handedly, would need a pretty strong group of people.”

Andy mentions the National Trust as a potential manager of the mountain if sufficient funds were raised, but stresses “there could be more than one solution.”

Value for money?

Even if enough money could be raised by the public, the question remains – what real value is there in spending millions on a mountain which is already open to the public and enjoys considerable statutory protection? Could the money be better spent elsewhere?

One possible answer is that an organisation like the National Trust or the John Muir Trust could have an influence over the way the mountain is managed if they owned it. Large-scale development may be effectively prohibited in National Parks, but ecological and environmental stewardship is a different matter.

The National Trust’s work to regenerate the moors of the Peak District, including Kinder Scout, or the John Muir Trust’s efforts to improve the natural habitat around Ben Nevis, show that environmental organisations can make a difference as landowners within protected landscapes by introducing measures to control and revitalise the natural environment.

Could something similar happen on Blencathra? Could we see the John Muir Trust introducing ‘rewilding’ measures, or the National Trust controlling grazing, modifying paths and planting new woodland?

Elfyn Jones, BMC Access and Conservation Officer for Wales, recalls the furore and hype surrounding the purchase of the southern flank of Snowdon in 1998 by the National Trust, and sees some parallels with the current sale of Blencathra. He said: “In 1998 the National Trust raised millions of pounds from public donations to ‘Save Snowdon’ for the nation. But many asked, what did Snowdon need saving from? Certainly there was no real or direct threat to public access or of inappropriate development as the mountain is fully protected by conservation designations and is mapped as open access.

“However, ownership by the National Trust has meant that a more appropriate conservation plan for this part of Snowdon has been adopted, a more sustainable grazing programme introduced and the actual conservation status of the land has improved.

“But the question still remains about the efficacy of conservation designations in the UK. Why is it that the public have to donate their money to conservation bodies in order to protect land that is already within National Parks and supposedly has the greatest level of conservation designation in Europe?”

Catherine Flitcroft, BMC Access and Conservation Policy Officer, said: “Blencathra is one of our most iconic mountains in England set in the beautiful Lake District National Park.

"Whilst the BMC feel the current level of protection awarded to the area will safeguard public interest, it is essential that whatever happens to this mountain, its value as a wild, exciting landscape to explore continues to be cherished.”

What do you think? Should the public donate funds to buy Blencathra, or is this money better spent elsewhere? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

WALK: These routes on Blencathra

Blencathra via Hall’s Fell (medium)

Blencathra via Sharp Edge (hard)



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1) Anonymous
07/05/2014
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed
2) Anonymous User
07/05/2014
If the BMC has the funds then it would seem appropriate to buy and protect Blencathra. It could be managed as an example of best practice in recreation uplands use.
3) Anonymous User
07/05/2014
If enough people were to put money towards it, then it makes perfect sense for the public to buy Blencathra. It would be a travesty for a corporation or another interest to buy it and stop the public walking the fell.
4) Anonymous User
07/05/2014
No, no no! Do not get sucked into paying Hugh Lowther any cash at all for this mountain. He has already made Muppets out of the media who in their usual lazy way have whipped up the story and given him thousands of pounds of undeserved free marketing.
If HMRC are prepared to take the land in partial payment of the debt and them perhaps give it into the care of National Trust or similar then fine.
However, there is no good reason for hard earned money to be spent on buying this finest of mountains. Public access is guaranteed and the land management is largely the responsibility of the local farmers who have their traditional grazing rights. The owner can have very little influence on either of these things which is probably why Lowther sees it as the easiest of his many assets to sell. If you want to change what the the farmers do then thinking that you can buy the mountain and use this as a way of influencing then is probably a bad strategy. Any attempt at a 'we own this now you know' attitude is guaranteed to make the whole thing more uphill than ascent of Halls Fell in gale.
5) Anonymous User
07/05/2014
If the public bought the mountain, routes could be dedicated for horse-riding and driving, cycling and for differently abled people. This would increase access in ways not otherwise available.
6) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Ideal location for a wind farm and an offroad driving adventure park.
7) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
No we as individuals should not pay lord lonsdales death duty ,we already have accsess ,the very concept of owning land that belongs to us anyway seems like some sort of con trick
8) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
The very assumption that some wealthy aristocrat can *own* a part of our landscape and have the right to sell it is preposterous. Don't encourage them by giving them money for selling something that doesn't make sense for it to be their's to sell in the first place. I'd be more up for demanding it be handed back into public protection for FREE - protest camp anyone? #occupyBlencathra
9) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
This is an ideal example of what the National Trust should be looking to obtain and manage, whether through direct purchase, or through HMRC acceptance in part payment of the outstanding debt and donation to the nation.
The benefits of sympathetic stewardship of the wild areas of the UK cannot be overstated and the National Trust is the correct body to be looking at this.
10) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Don't know the owner but he sounds a bit canny to me. He sounds like he playing on peoples fears: that he doesn't give a damn and who buys it and it could be someone irresponsible like a mad Russian playboy. This then will generate concern and fury so that someone will organise themselves to buy it for a tidy price!
Due diligence before you chuck any money at it BMC
11) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Definitely not. This would be an unwise use of charity money. The existing protections for access and recreation are in place. Protection from inappropriate development exists too. The estate would be more of a burden than a benefit and would require management, from grazing to forestry in perpetuity...who will pay for that? And who would the eventual owner be? If it's donated to the NPA, it risks being sold to prop up the coffers in a face of 30%+ budget cuts to NPA budgets as result of central government cuts between 2010-2016. Let the new owner take on that burden and use BMC money to continue be better used for campaigning for protection of not just this, but all mountain environments across the UK.
12) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Happy to donate £10 if you tell us how to do it.
13) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Please do not buy this mountain! What are you thinking??? It's ridiculous, preposterous, absurd! Nobody should own the mountain! I do not want my membership fee to go to paying off the debts of a rich, land-owning member of the British aristocracy. Saying he doesn't want to evict tenant farmers is a con. He wants to keep them under his command paying rents to him and his family for centuries to come. It is time this outdated, undemocratic, wholesale land theft was ended. Let the tax man take his debt in whatever way they have to, and let the land come back into common ownership of all of us.
14) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Why do we need to buy it? It's Open Access under the terms of the Act already. The reference to the "daft Russian" is clearly an attempt to get buyers thinking in daft Russian billionaire prices. BTW I have a spare Forth Bridge for sale. Viewing essential... and I slogged up Blencathra once in the 60s - boring old hill.
15) Anonymous User
08/05/2014
Why do we need to buy it? It's Open Access under the terms of the Acct already. The reference to the "daft Russian" is clearly an attempt to get buyers thinking in daft Russian billionaire prices. BTW I have a spare Forth Bridge for sale. Viewing essential... and I slogged up Blencathra once in the 60s - boring old hill.
16) Ian Carey
09/05/2014
Definitely worth consideration. A consortium approach with other groups, such as the Ramblers, NT, John Muir, etc could work. The world is constantly changing and free access may not always be the case. Ownership would provide a better guarantee of access and give the 'members' an opportunity to demonstrate good stewardship of the land for the benefit of all. It would also be nice if the current owner tried to negotiate with HMRC to donate the land in part settlement of the tax bill. It has happened previously with works of art, why not the same for iconic landscapes.
17) Anonymous User
09/05/2014
Whilst I don't think anyone at all can own mountains, I will be in favour of any purchase and will be looking to donate to Friends of Blencathra. Although it may make more sense to join organisations such as BMC, Friends of the Lake District, John Muir Trust, Mountain Bothies Association, National Trust etc who all protect our land.
18) Anonymous User
09/05/2014
On balance we think it's right to support the purchase. It saves the mountain forever. It galvanises the outdoor community behind a unifying fundraising campaign and it means that Blencathra becomes everyone's forever ... a true people's mountain.
read more http://www.climbitrange.co.uk/blog/?p=3050
19) Anonymous User
09/05/2014
Do you think the Earl would get any buyers given the level of protection the area enjoys thanks to CRoW and SSSI? Foreigners aren't that stupid - they conduct due diligence which will outline all these points. Asking the public to cough up 9M quid to buy a piece of land which they will have access to anyway sounds like a scam. I can't believe the BMC even entertains such stupid ideas - I'm going to stop paying my dues.
20) Carey Davies (author comment)
09/05/2014
Thank you for all your comments. However it's probably worth clarifying that the 'we' in the headline of this story ('Should we buy Blencathra') was intended to refer to the public at large rather than the BMC.

The standfirst and the main body of the article makes no mention of the BMC itself intending to buy the mountain, but a number of commenters have got the wrong impression, so apologies for the lack of clarity. This article is simply intended to be an investigation / discussion of the wisdom of a *public* buyout as proposed by campaigners. The headline has been amended to make this clearer.
21) Anonymous User
09/05/2014
Almost a moot point, but, it was mapped as Access Land (mountain over 600m and moor below) rather than dedicated. If the land was 'improved', or became scrubbed up and wooded, then it might no longer be moor, and then whenever mapped again areas below 600m could lose rights of access.

CROW S16 Access Land is permanent, however, so the best protection of access. Permanent ownership by someone such as the National Trust or John Muir Trust with proper management is desirable too!
22) Anonymous User
09/05/2014
someresponsible membershipbody should buy
23) Anonymous User
11/05/2014
Apologies for referring to Blencathra as a "boring old hill" (A senior moment - It was 50 years ago). . Skiddaw I was thinking of - now that was boring.
24) Anonymous User
11/05/2014
I feel that the National Trust would be great guardians of Blencathra ensuring that it is managed in the most appropriate way for nature, the public and any historical interest.
25) Anonymous User
11/05/2014
Ownership may not make any difference to access,but the point is…..

We surely do not want this signifiant part of Cumbria to be owned by some foreign rich person.
26) Anonymous User
11/05/2014
Surely Lord Lonsdale's been advised the HMRevenue could accept in lieu of tax and deducted from the money owed.... then Blencathra could be gifted to an environmental/conservation charity such as the Cumbria Wildlife Trust or Friends of the Lake District and looked after for biodiversity, wildlife and people?
27) Anonymous User
12/05/2014
What a ridiculous situation, that a piece of British heritage should even be considered for sale to prospective purchasers from overseas.
Haven't we lost enough of our country to outsiders?
The French own our water and heaven knows how much more has been sold off!
Surely we have a big enough population, to support the locals of Blencathra, and to pledge a nominal, say £10 - £20, or however much/little people can afford, so that 'the people of Britain' are all owners of this beautiful area.
Years ago, in Marazion in Cornwall, local people purchased tiles for the restoration of the Town's Church roof to raise funds for its huge cost. Could we not do something similar to help the community who are trying to save such an important landmark?
How about sponsored walks on the mountain to raise funds towards its purchase?
One day I would like to see it for myself, but in the hands of private foreign investment that might never come to fruition.
28) Anonymous User
06/06/2014
I wouldn't be too confident long term that access is guaranteed. Look at what some bloody minded landowners have done with rights of way; and what a few estate owners in Scotland have successfully done to hinder access, which in Scotland is much more of a right than in England.
29) Anonymous User
08/06/2014
I have lived in the Lakes all my life and agree with those who say no to public purchase. This is the same Lowther family who destroyed Lowther Castle in (I believe?!) the 1930's to avoid paying Inheritance Tax. The same Lowther Castle which has recently received significant public money towards its restoration

The Lowther Estate is run along (very) commercial lines. I can see no benefit to the general public of paying for something which may be enjoyed by the public in perpetuity. I for one, as a local, will not be dipping hand in pocket! The Natuonal Trust have already said there's little point in the mountain being in public ownership, since the land is already protected.
30) Anonymous User
09/06/2014
Just another example of the rich few trying to extract taxes from the hardworking masses. It should be "TAKEN" from him and given to the people of this country via the national trust. Buying it would be like me taking ouit another mortgage on my house even though it is already paid for. Long live the revolution !!

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