Who lives on those mountains we love?

A blog by Sophia Newton, Leader of the Flock at createaflock.co.uk

 Photo by Spencer Hannah

Photo by Spencer Hannah

Tuesday 12th December 2017 was International Mountain Day, an occasion created to highlight the need for sustainable mountain development. The day marked the beginning of three days of UN discussions in Rome to address the topic.

Mountains cover 22% of the world’s surface, are home to nearly a billion people and are a vital part of the water cycle, providing freshwater to the lowlands beneath. Traditionally mountains have been home to a wide range of mountain peoples and environments but are under threat from climate, hunger and migration. 90% of mountain dwellers live in the world’s developing countries and helping to create sustainable development whilst preserving and encouraging their way of life will likely be near the top of the agenda for the talks and rightly so.

Here in Britain, our own mountain communities are under threat too, though the challenges facing these rural communities differ. Poverty is very much a real issue for many of those who help manage Britain’s mountain landscapes. In the English Lake District, arguably one of the UK’s most economically stable areas, it can be a county of two halves. Tourists flock to the area, attracted by the deep lakes and craggy mountains and inevitably business booms in the honeypot towns in the valleys. For the fell farmers who oversee the Lakeland fells it can feel like a different story. A traditional way of life, which for some families has remained more or less unchanged in hundreds of years is under threat from economic challenges, environmental changes and issues surrounding succession and the younger generation's ability to afford to carry on. Answers for these deep-rooted problems won’t be found overnight but a socially-conscious brand Herdy has been helping to make positive changes for the upland fell farmers through their philanthropic herdyfund.

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Herdy is a design-led home and giftware company with the smiling iconic Herdwick sheep at the centre. From the very first day of the company, co-founders Spencer and Diane Hannah set up the herdyfund to support fell farmers and rural communities in their home county of Cumbria.

Spencer Hannah urges others to look upwards to the mountains and to think creatively about helping create a sustainable economic and environmental solution to the challenges facing mountain communities:

"We felt responsible for helping safeguard and protect the area which was the inspiration for the business. Its taken us ten years to create strong relationships with the fell farming community, they’re private and hardworking and they would be the very last people to ask for help. We’ve worked closely with them and created practical projects that are having a positive impact. Together we’ve established the Herdwick gene bank, preserving the iconic hardy breed for the long term, created trade relationships for herdwick wool which guarantees them above market value for otherwise discarded fleeces through herdysleep, and helped set up apprenticeships for dry stone wallers.

"All the projects are scalable and over time combined with other initiatives will have even more of a dramatic impact on the rural communities and fell farmers of the Lake District. Our mountains are more than a pretty backdrop, they are also home to communities and I think that the people who benefit from the mountains are often those on the valley floor and we have to think differently to forge viable ways for us all to prosper."

The herdyfund has been running for the last ten years but is becoming a formally registered charity in Spring through Cumbria Community Foundation. For more information visit www.herdy.co.uk