THE Herdwick sheep breed is an iconic part of the Lake District - but visitors may see fewer guardians of the fells in the future. 

That was the view of South Lakes MP Tim Farron after he met farmers in the Langdales last week.

Afterwards he said that new payment schemes would dissuade upland farmers from having large numbers of Herdwick stock on their land in the future. 

Until next year upland farmers in the Lake District can receive the Basic Payment Scheme. However the scheme is going to be replaced with a range of payments available to farmers. 

One of these is countryside stewardship, which would support the management and creation of wood pastures in the uplands. To develop the characteristics of wood pasture the land would have to be lightly grazed by cattle.

The Mail: A Herdwick ram at the Ennerdale Country Show in 2016A Herdwick ram at the Ennerdale Country Show in 2016 (Image: John Story)

Sheep seek out and graze flowers in the pasture in a way that cattle do not. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that in some cases sheep grazing would be possible in combination with cattle but the best results would be with low-intensity cattle or hardy ponies. 

Mr Farron said that some of the farms left in Beatrix Potter's will, which would have had thousands of sheep after her death in 1943, were already considering vastly reducing their Herdwick numbers, and in one case to 300. He said that for other Lakeland farms there might be even more of a decrease. 

He said: "I'm absolutely of the view that there has been overgrazing in the past in the farms. But we're going from one extreme to another. 

"With the basic payment going away the thing that is replacing it is not accessible for farms. Overstocking is pretty much going, if it's not already gone, and you don't need to go from 1000 sheep to 50 or none. By intention or by accident the government is going to massively undermine what the Lake District looks like." 

READ MORE: Grim future for Herdwick flocks

Natural England operates under Defra, and is the body that determines farm payments. Chris Kaighin, the deputy area manager for Cumbria, said: "We work closely with farmers and landowners to help them access Defra funding for environmental improvements, which is often an important way to sustain farming in the uplands and ensuring that Herdwicks continue to be seen on the fells.

"Many Lake District farmers are also choosing to create areas of wood pasture on their holdings to make a contribution to nature recovery in the National Park.

“In the Lake District, Natural England works in partnership with farming organisations, the National Trust and the National Park Authority to understand how best to manage the special landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage while advising farmers on the government’s environmental farming schemes.”

A Defra spokesperson said that Herdwick flocks and upland habitats are 'highly valued' attributes of the Lake District World Heritage Site. They said: "We are supporting Cumbria’s upland farmers through increased payment rates and improved options through our farming scheme and working with them to maintain the distinctive character of the Lake District’s fells.”