This is a manifesto to create a natural environment from the Southern Pennines to the Scottish border.
We live in a densely populated country , but those of us living in cities feel cut off from wild environments. Manchester is fortunate to be surrounded by the Pennines on two sides and I often spend at least part of every day looking longingly at the not-so-distant hills. The smooth round hills of the Pennines are not truly wild in any real sense though. They look that way after centuries of stripping down the native forests and then continual over-gazing by animals released onto the land by human activity and now supported by heavy farming subsidies to keep marginal land in production.
The higher moors are kept clear of trees by constant burning to create shooting ranges and the extreme acidic environment created by air pollution from our old industrial environment. Only the highest mountains in the UK are above the natural tree-line.
I’ve been inspired to write this by my regular walks over the southern Pennines and further afield in Wales , The Lake District and Scotland. I’ve been thinking about this for long time and argued with people about the need to bring back real wild country, but it has been brought in to sharp relief by the publication of George Monbiot’s recent book “Feral.” All that really needs to be done to create a natural environment of forest and high moorland is benign removal of subsidy for marginal sheep farming and the fencing in of those areas we want to turn to forest to protect them from the ravages of stray sheep, deer and rabbits. Nature will do the rest and within a generation the southern Pennines will become a natural forest, creating huge potential benefits as a store house of atmospheric carbon, vastly increasing the natural habitats of all our native species of plants and animals and providing a richer environment with forestry, fishing and natural tourism from surrounding cities replacing many times over the few jobs that sheep farming currently supports.
If we want to speed the process up we could encourage this process by starting to plant native trees on the lower slopes and on the edges of river valleys and then bringing back species such as otters and beavers. I am not arguing for the loss of the high heather moors here; these could continue to managed as they are today to encourage heather and preserve the wide sweeping views.
All that is required is concerted action to take marginal land in the Pennine chain out of subsidized sheep farming and allow forests to develop and grow as they once did before humans came and removed them. With help from public bodies, land owners and ordinary people this vision could be realized within our life times and would be one legacy our generation of post-war consumers could leave to our children.
Councillor David Ellison
Labour Member Didsbury West Ward
Manchester City Council