The Hills and Fields of Eskdale


Our much-loved Borders landscape is under attack from three directions by forces that someone sitting in an office – never having been to our area – could easily sign off as ticking all the boxes, as if that is the best we could do for the environment and global warming.

The first is from wind.

As I understand it, with permission, you can build a wind farm on any exposed piece of land with an uninterrupted view of the sea. As an island the UK must have more suitable sites than anywhere in Europe, so why do they want to build them all in South West Scotland?

In South West Scotland there are no wilderness areas, miles from the nearest habitation, the industrialisation of the hills impacts people’s homes, lives and families.

We must be careful what we wish for. All the above would apply to Fawside, but once the landowners have decided to take the land out of agricultural production, taken the sheep off, made the shepherds redundant and either sold the cottages off or turned them into twee Air B&B’s, there is no going back. If they fail to get permission for a wind farm they will turn to non-native trees and plant the now vacant ground. Then comes the awful choice, windmills or trees (more on trees later). The advantage of windmills is that after the initial building phase and the roads have blended in, they are fairly innocuous, the contours of the hills and sykes are still there, the land can still be used for farming and at the end of life the land can be returned to something close to what it was.

The second and most devastating land crime is blanket planting of conifers, a state sponsored environmental disaster.

Breath-taking borders hills get dug up, thousands of years of plant history and wildlife are fast covered up by a shroud of conifers, mainly non-native that don’t fix as much CO2 from the atmosphere as the peatbogs and grassland they replace. The planting process requires masses of machinery, using CO2 producing fossil fuels. Thinning, harvesting and finally replanting all add to the CO2 produced during the life of the crop. However, the real crime is once planted the landscape has been irreversibly changed forever, funded by the state and some misguided fossil fuel burning companies’ carbon offsetting, in truth Greenwashing.

Wherever you look in our area there is evidence of this devastating con – the hills around Langholm, good productive farmland around Canonbie. We are being constantly told about food security – the recent troubles in the Ukraine have highlighted how important it is that we become self-sufficient in our traditional foods. You can’t eat trees!

The third direction of attack is probably going to be a more controversial subject. I, like many people in the area, welcomed the Langholm community buyout of Whita and the Tarras. Whilst all around us is being planted or wind-farmed we have an oasis, a hill that has been walked up, ridden up and enjoyed by the residents of Langholm and the surrounding areas. Wherever you stop on your way up the hill there is an uninterrupted view of Langholm, the Solway, or the Lake District.

I am sure that we all thought our hill would be safe for generations to come, but we were wrong, now the landscape is no longer managed by farming or shooting, the self-seeded birch and knee-deep heather really has taken hold. In not many years those walks and views will be completely blocked by scrub, the habitat will have completely changed, many of the species that were to be protected will not survive.

Already, without proper control the predator species are on the increase, there are many more foxes, they will cause real problems for farmers and ground nesting birds. And as these predators increase in number and use up the available space and food they will move out into the surrounding areas.

I am sure that many will remember a few years ago when the hill caught fire; not a huge area, because most of the hill was managed, but nevertheless, it took several days to bring under control.

Allowing the hill to go completely unmanaged will be a very great wildfire risk, made worse by the fact the area is bounded by roads, crisscrossed by foot paths. In Lancashire since shooting has been stopped on the council owned moorland there are frequently moorland fires on what are now unmanaged moors.

Is the fire risk on Whita and Tarras being addressed? Now there will be no farmers or keepers to help with fire control.

All three of the above will massively change our area – its views, fauna and flora. I just hope everyone fully realises the irreversible changes to the landscape and environment over the next few years will be due to decisions we are making now.

I think we have more than our fair share of trees and windmills.

Murray F Hunter is a resident of Dumfriesshire. He runs a couple of businesses and a small farm. He is passionate about country sports and preserving our landscape.