Wild Fell by Lee Scofield: Book review by Julie Lane

Wild Fell: Fighting for nature on a Lake District hill farm
by Lee Schofield (Penguin/Doubleday, 2022)

I thought you might be interested to read the following book which gives an insight into the natural history of the area where I now live.

Lee is my son-in-law’s colleague and they both work at the RSPB’s Haweswater Reserve. Lee came to their wedding a couple of years ago and played the guitar and sang wonderfully which was a great treat. He is a humble modest man but very likeable and extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife of the Lake District.  His book is brave, poignant and ultimately hopeful.

I grew up visiting the Lake District regularly for holidays but over the years the pressures on this beautiful place have increased exponentially. Overgrazing of the fells, pollution of the lakes and also the huge numbers of tourists who visit every year have resulted in a degraded landscape with very little wildlife.

This book is an appeal and a justification for change by a man who really knows his subject. He has been working with others to trial and refine ways to run a viable upland farm in a manner that enriches the landscape in Haweswater and allows nature to creep back slowly but surely. He describes how by planting trees, re-wetting peat bogs and re-wiggling rivers they are slowly making progress. It is understandably not easy for other land managers such as farmers who have lived in the area for generations to accept these changes as a necessary movement towards a healthier more sustainable and ultimately more productive landscape. But Lee looks into the pressures they have faced and the confusing and changing political landscape they have had to contend with and is always broad minded in his writing.

This book has a serious message but is also a fascinating and enjoyable read about the wildlife to be found and the characters who work in this corner of the Lake District. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and alongside James Rebanks’ two books A Shepherd’s Life and English Pastoral, I think you get a very balanced view of the pressures and challenges of farming in this beautiful corner of our country as well as a lot of background as to how we have got ourselves into our present nature-depleted state.

Julie Lane
November 2022