The upland commons are in the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty

The upland commons are in the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty

The Ministry of Defence stands accused of a land privatisation in the Cumbrian North Pennines.

Campaigners said the ministry’s plans to deregister three large upland commons presents the biggest threat to the area’s cultural history since the enclosure movement.

Objectors say the deregistration would be unlawful and flies in the face of undertakings made by the MoD at a public inquiry to keep the commons registered in perpetuity.

The threatened commons are to the north-east of Appleby-in-Westmorland, in the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty. Objectors include access campaigners and commoners.

They said the MoD wants to privatise about one per cent, or 4,500ha (11,120 acres) of England’s total common land if Cumbria County Council grants it permission. This would be the largest enclosure since the major enclosures of commons in the 18th and early 19th centuries, they added.

Campaigners said, if the land is deregistered, it will bring to an end hundreds of years of tradition of upland commoning and the farming community, which used to have vital grazing rights over this land, would be denied any opportunity in future to graze their stock there.

The land would also lose protection against encroachment and development since works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in addition to any planning permission.

William Patterson of the Hilton Commoners’ Association said: “When the MoD negotiated the buyout and extinguishment of the commoners’ grazing rights – known as ‘stints’ – on Hilton Fell, Murton Fell and Warcop Fell, one of the fundamental issues was MoD’s agreement to leave the fells on the commons register.

“On the strength of this undertaking, the commoners accepted the buyout. It is a breach of trust that the MoD now wants to cancel that undertaking without making a further agreement. I believe that to safeguard the future of these fells the land must remain on the commons register.”

Access to Warcop is restricted during live-firing exercises. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Access to Warcop is restricted during live-firing exercises. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Jan Darrall of Friends of the Lake District said: “The three commons of Warcop, Hilton and Murton amount to three per cent of Cumbria’s common land.

“There is no foundation for the MoD to deregister our commons and destroy our cultural heritage and to deny local use. They gave undertakings during the 2001 inquiry that the land would remain as common land and are now reneging on this so as to have total control over the land for who knows what?

“We need to fight for our rich common land to remain for all to enjoy.”

Hugh Craddock of the Open Spaces Society added: “For too long, the MoD has wasted taxpayers’ money ruminating on theoretical risks to the future of the Warcop training estate which have no substance in reality.

“Now the MoD is wasting more money, and other people’s time, on pursuing an application for deregistration of the Warcop, Hilton and Murton commons which is not only unnecessary and misguided, but entirely contrary to undertakings it previously gave.

“We shall fight the MoD in its pointless campaign which has dragged on for too long. We hope that the MoD sees sense and withdraws its application, and focuses its resources on managing the Warcop commons in accordance with the commitments it gave in 2002.”

When the consultation on the MoD’s plans began, it said: “The original undertakings were given at a public inquiry held in 2001, and were intended to safeguard the future status of the land in the event of it ever being given up by the department.

“The public inquiry resulted in the rights of common at Warcop, Hilton and Murton commons being extinguished, but the MoD undertook to create new rights of common in the event of the cessation of military training. It also agreed not to remove the land from the register of common land created under the Commons Registration Act 1965.

“With the change in legislation enacted under the Commons Act 2006, the undertakings are no longer appropriate, and would not have been given in their present form had the 2006 Act been in place at the time.

“However, the MoD still wishes to secure the future status of this land, and has proposed a revised undertaking which would do this.”

Lieutenant Colonel Philip Jennings, commander defence training estate north, said: “The MoD is committed to protecting the long-term future status of its land at Warcop.

“For this reason, we are keen to align undertakings protecting our land with changes in legislation introduced by the Commons Act.

“As part of the MoD’s commitment to responsible stewardship of its estate, it’s important to us to involve the local community in making this decision. This is why our proposals are subject to consultation and public scrutiny and we very much hope people will take this opportunity to respond.

“The revised undertakings will, as far as possible, ensure that the rights of common will be re-instated if Warcop ceases to be used for military training in the future.”

The Ministry of Defence said the plans will help more effective military training. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The Ministry of Defence said the plans will help more effective military training. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Julia Aglionby of Foundation for Common Land said: “Common land is the most valuable and protected type of land in England, an immensely precious resource for society that has already been reduced to a mere three per cent of England’s area.

“The MoD’s arguments for deregistering 11,000 acres of commons at Warcop are spurious, legally contestable and not in the national interest.”

Viv Lewis of the Federation of Cumbria Commoners said: “The federation is very much opposed to the MoD’s proposal to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop commons.

“Common land is important to hill farmers and makes up some of our most treasured landscapes. If the hills stop being common land and the commoners lose their rights to graze and the sheep leave the hills, what’s to become of the uplands?”

An MoD spokesman said: “We have applied to deregister sections of the Warcop training area so that it can be used to provide more effective military training. Existing public footpath access will not be affected.”

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