A high-profile Cumbrian sheep farmer dubbed “Twitter’s favourite shepherd”, has quit a major government review of England’s National Parks, blaming the “cretinous” objections of a fringe conservationists.
James Rebanks told The Telegraph that he resigned from the panel just three days after agreeing to the role after he faced a barrage of online criticism from “a small minority of conservationists” who objected to a sheep farmers being included in the review.
The panel was set up by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to consider calls for the Chilterns and South Downs to become National Parks.
Mr Rebanks, a Herdwick shepherd whose family have worked the land for 600 years, went from unknown rural shepherd to international prominence after he opened a Twitter account in 2012 to document life on his sheep farm.
He has since gained more than 112,000 followers, been featured in The New Yorker and his book – The Shepherd’s Life – was published to critical acclaim.
The farmer says he has an “excellent relationship” with the major conservationist bodies, but blamed “extreme environmentalists” for his decision, saying they were not interested in how to “make the uplands of Britain better both for nature but also the people of the future”.
Mr Rebank’s appointment to panel, which also includes Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood and former National Trust director general Dame Fiona Reynolds, received a lukewarm welcome from some conservationists, who said it was dominating by farming interests and seemed set to reject ‘rewilding’ the countryside with endangered and extinct flora and fauna.
It also appears he is taking a break from Twitter, using the social media platform to say he was “done”.
Guy Shrubsole, an environmental campaigner, said the panel had “seemed rather skewed” in favour of farmers.
He told The Telegraph: “I was just a bit perturbed not to see an ecologist on the panel… obviously a review of National Parks obviously has to listen carefully to farmers – such as James Rebanks – I’d just hoped the review would also include a conservation scientist, and I remain hopeful that they will appoint one.”
Mr Rebanks’ resignation has prompted fears from countryside groups that farming interests won’t be sufficiently represented on the panel.
Fiona Howie, chief executive of Campaign for National Parks, said Mr Rebanks resignation was a “real shame” and called for a “more sensible and mature debate” over the future of the country’s National Parks.
A Defra spokesman said the views of farmers and land managers were ‘vitally important’ to the review, but no decisions had yet been made about a replacement.