Wild Fell by Lee Schofield review – can the Lake District be rewilded?

A conservationist finds that efforts to restore this cherished landscape to a more natural state aren’t always welcomed

About 140 years before its designation as a national park, William Wordsworth described the Lake District as “a sort of national property in which every man has a right and an interest”. Like other English national parks, however, this one is mostly in private hands. It also lacks the wilderness associated with designated landscapes elsewhere. But it is firmly a public asset: loved by millions, and subject to the demands of landowners, tenants, taxpayers and visitors from around the world. For generations these demands have centred on agricultural heritage and aesthetics, but increasingly prominent on the list of “what the Lake District ought to do for us” are ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water management and biodiversity.

Lee Schofield is a country boy who grew into an ecologist and conservationist, and as such he embodies the “messy middle” in the old and wearisome war between town and country. He’s an easy person to like – thoughtful, quietly spoken, a watcher and listener, a writer and singer of folky songs. But he’s found himself in a place and a job in which perhaps his most important characteristic is resilience. The place is Haweswater in the north-eastern edge of the Lake District national park, and the job is overseeing the ecological restoration of a landscape on behalf of the RSPB, who rent the land from United Utilities. The site includes Haweswater reservoir and two traditional hill farms.

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