Upland farmers protecting ancient powers to graze sheep on common land at Ingleborough Mountain

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The act of commoning dates back to 1215 with principles first set out in the Magna Carta, granting certain farmers the right to graze their animals on common land without fences or boundaries between them.

Now like a dozen breeders and their dogs hunted sheep on the west side of Ingleborough Mountain last week, storytellers were there to document them in action.

This was the fifth and final gathering of the year at Ingleborough Common, aimed at bringing breeding ewes to a lower level to heap and sort them into new pens at Cod Bank.

William and John Dawson on a foggy summit of Ingleborough for the start of the rally. Image: Rob Fraser/Somewhere-Nowhere

Rob and Harriet Fraser of the Our Upland Commons project are producing ‘Common Stories’, helping commoners create video diaries.

Ingleborough Graziers chairman John Dawson of Bleak Bank Farm said it raised awareness of a hugely important tradition.

He said, “I’m a big fan of the project. It raised the profile of what we do – it’s as simple as that. We were so long under the radar. Some aspects of commoning and farm life are undervalued by society.

“The question is whether people want food produced by the family farm. These are farms that you know will always do their best and that you can trust.

Ingleborough herders search for sheep at a muster as the mist lifts. Image: Rob Fraser/Somewhere-Nowhere

“Some lambs rounded up off Ingleborough this year have already been sold into the food chain. And all these lambs were sucking their mother’s milk and eating grass. It doesn’t get closer to nature than that or purer than that.

Common rights were once widespread across Europe, but have been lost in many areas as common lands are closed. The Foundation for Common Land argues that without it, ancient knowledge would be lost as the balance of these landscapes would be irretrievably broken, taking with it a piece of living history.

The project, funding the construction of the new sorting enclosures at £11,000, also celebrates the traditions and deeds of the right wing, which has protected landscapes for over 1,000 years.

Mr Dawson’s son William, who was also present, said the funding for the new sorting pens had boosted morale: ‘Often all farmers think about is that we are constantly being weakened.

Ingleborough Graziers, including John Kelsall (front), sort the sheep into the new pens. Image: Rob Fraser/Somewhere-Nowhere

“Only about 12 pickers use the common now. Twenty years ago it would have been about 30. As the small farms have sold off because they are no longer viable, the number of pickers has gone down. So that’s nice to see investments made in pooling.

“The pens will make the job easier and safer as the old pens were built in the 60’s and they were held together by pieces of baler twine, old pallets and zinc sheets.”

Derek Twine, Champion Member of Cultural Heritage at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: ‘The common only survives in a handful of places in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but it is an exceptional feature of our Cultural Heritage.

“The viability of the commons is even more at risk during this period of agricultural transition that we are seeing in England. Supporting the commons during this time of change is vital.

“One way to do this is to help people understand the benefits that come from traditional management of the commons: good food, wildlife habitats, carbon sequestration and water storage.”

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