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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
End of an era for author's farm
High Yewdale Farm
High Yewdale Farm is being divided among local farmers
Modern pressures on farming have been blamed as the hilltop farm Beatrix Potter left to the nation is split up by the National Trust.

For forty years farmer Johnny Birkett has tended his 400-strong flock of sheep at High Yewdale Farm in Cumbria.

But this week he had tears in his eyes as he prepared to auction them off.

The 71-year-old is retiring and he has lost his campaign, backed by Prince Charles, to save the farm that was once owned by author Beatrix Potter.

The flock he brought down from the fells above Lake Coniston are direct descendants of those bred by the Peter Rabbit creator before she bequeathed the farm to the National Trust in 1943.

Farmer devastated

At the time, the 450-acre estate was hailed as a shining example of a British farm and was visited by the Queen.

But after more than 60 years, the National Trust says facts must be faced because Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms mean the farm is not making a good living.

Farmer John Birkett
It is a good farm and it is a disgrace that it is being split up
Johnny Birkett, farmer
It is splitting the land three ways between local farms and renting out its 17th Century farmhouse to ensure its "economic future."

But the move to break up the estate has sparked outrage locally and nationally among those who claim the farm is one of the most viable in the area and splitting it could destroy a unique part of Britain's farming heritage.

Mr Birkett has tended the land day and night for 40 years with his wife Ruth and retires on Wednesday.

He is devastated that he will be unable to pass on his experience to a new tenant.

He said: "I have worked all my life on the land and it has given me such pleasure.

"You work day and night and have to have a good wife to support you, which I have.

'Lost' tradition

"It is a good farm and it is a disgrace that it is being split up. Anyone could work this farm and make a living. as I have proved.

"The National Trust made its mind up from the start and has been making one excuse after another.

"Farmers in this area just don't agree with the decision - a part of the farming tradition in the Lake District is being lost forever."

Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter left the farm to the National Trust in 1943

A spokesman for the National Trust said he understood the concerns, but there was no other choice than to split up the land.

John Darlington, National Trust area manager for the Lake District, said: "This is a very sad day and we wish to acknowledge Mr Birkett's hard work over the years.

"He has worked the land and done a wonderful job preserving the landscape of the Lake District.

"But unfortunately the Common Agricultural Policy reforms mean that the financial payments to support hill farming are changing with the result that the viability of a farm such as High Yewdale is greatly reduced.

The trust will ensure the character of the farm and its beautiful landscapes are protected for the future
John Darlington, National Trust

"We do appreciate the concerns people have about changes, but in fact Beatrix Potter, as a land manager and farmer, made changes during her lifetime in response to the agricultural pressures of her day.

"Very importantly, the trust will ensure the character of the farm and its beautiful landscapes are protected for the future."

Potter, who was born in London in 1866, moved to Cumbria after getting married, where she created her famous characters.

She died on 22 December 1943 and left 14 farms and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust, together with her flocks of Herdwick sheep.

Last month Prince Charles personally intervened and contacted the National Trust in an attempt to save the hilltop farm.

His questions prompted the trust to carry out a report about the future of upland hill farming in Britain, but did not persuade it to reverse the decision.

Mr Birkett added: "We shall not return to High Yewdale. It will not be a farm any longer, if it had been we would have come back to help out the new tenants. This is a sad day for my wife and I."

See Beatrix Potter's farm which is being broken up

Fears over letting author's farm
02 Sep 05 |  Cumbria
Revamp for Peter Rabbit complex
15 Nov 04 |  Cumbria
'Tailor-made' Potter book for Queen
14 Apr 03 |  Gloucestershire
Potter's mice get their chips
17 Nov 02 |  England

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