Broadcaster Lord Bragg has accused the National Trust of bullying after it acquired a tranche of land in the Lake District that could threaten a farm which upholds an agricultural tradition thousands of years old.
The charity last month bought Thorneythwaite Farm in Borrowdale, near Keswick, which has a flock of 413 Herdwick sheep, a rare breed which the author Beatrix Potter once helped save from extinction.
But the trust did not buy the farmhouse and there are now concerns about what will happen to the sheep, which the charity owns. The Times said its actions had upset residents of Borrowdale and farmers who had hoped to buy the house and land and keep it running as a working farm.
Lord Bragg, a native of Cumbria, lambasted the trust’s actions, branding it a “disgraceful purchase” and a “nasty piece of work”, adding that its opening bid of £200,000 above the £750,000 guide price to put off other potential buyers was “straight out of the mafia.”
In a letter to the newspaper he accused the National Trust of behaving “very badly”, yet considering itself “beyond criticism”, and accused its director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, of behaving “very dictatorially.”
He said: “Had a billionaire bullied his way into this disgraceful purchase there would have been a deserved outcry.”
Lord Bragg highlighted the Lake District’s historic farming system and rare native Herdwick sheep as being key to its nomination for recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site.
He said: “If the increasingly arrogant National Trust is there to protect anything of our past surely this is a prime example.”
He added: “The National Trust is about to destroy what centuries of working men and women have created. It used a shameful manoeuvre to achieve its aim. Who can check this bullying charity?”
A spokesman for the trust said it wanted the 303 acres of land for its value to wildlife, telling the newspaper: “We believe we can look after this land in a way that benefits nature, visitors and the local community.
“We understand some people believe we should also have bought the farm house and continued to manage the land in the same way. However, given our limited funds, we believe that this was the right approach.
“Managing the land is the best way for us to secure the long term future health of this special landscape, given our available resources.”
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