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Wild fell

There has been a plethora of nature publishing in recent times. I have blogged about recommended titles elsewhere. I look for books of particular interest to those leading groups in our countryside and mountainous areas. I’m also keen to recommend books that are well written and read nicely. I know many of us are not too keen on reading, but the books I recommend, I hope, will ease you in. The latest in this group of books is potentially the best.

If you are someone who likes walking in our uplands, particularly the Lake District. If you want to help others learn more about these areas, if you have become aware of how the management of our uplands has been challenged by government policy over the last forty or fifty years, if you think you’ve heard that our hills could be a little more nature friendly, then this book is right up your (High) street.

Lee Scofield writes with passion, intelligence, humility and emotion in his first book; Wild Fell. Wild Fell is a personal narrative on Lee’s journey to understanding his new role as manger of two upland farms, in the Lake District, on behalf of the RSPB. Lee is a conservationist and naturalist so arrived in Mardale to some scepticism from his neighbours. It’s been a journey. A journey not without conflict. Lee is honest about getting it wrong, but what he proves is that to have wilder countryside we need to engage with hearts and minds as much as with fences, bogs and saplings.

The vison for Mardale should not be an extraordinary one, but Lee visits other wilding projects to seek out what will and what won’t work. He’s determined to keep sheep in the mix. Lee wants to manage where they graze and for how long they graze, in a way which will give opportunities for nature recovery. His team have introduced cattle and ponies to the land, they have planted trees and fenced off some areas, all to encourage a greater biodiversity on the land, land which is actually leased from a very supportive United Utilities.

The RSPB are not new to farming, but this is their first upland farm. It perhaps shouldn’t be quite as experimental as it sounds it shouldn’t be radical, but it is a big ask wanting people to change their habits and their ways of working. Lees’ team are just one of a group of farmers leading the way towards farming in more nature friendly way. This is not rewilding in its fullest sense, but it accepts people and food production as part of the picture. With a little directed help from farm support payments I believe the models Lee’s team are developing at Mardale could be a blueprint for much more of our upland areas.

In the course of the book Lee takes us through the faded landscape in which he finds himself. He revels in the few fragments of nature to be found, he suspects, there could be more. Lee journeys to Norway, to Scotland and seeks inspiration from nearer home too. Lee is soon leading the team in the making of changes to the way the land is managed across the two farms. There’s a very dramatic story about de-canalising a river, cattle and ponies are introduced, sheep are reduced in number and trees are planted. This is a book of hope, a book about tweaking the balance, a book that should inspire us all. Lee’s idealised description of what the farms might look like in 2045 is a vision we should all share

This marvellous piece of work is an essential read for all mountain leaders and mountaineering instructors. You can alos listen to an interview with Lee on my Upland Lives Podcast.

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