In Neolithic times, the Lake District was a prime source of stone axes, examples of which have been found all over Britain. The main site, on the slopes of the Langdale Pikes, is often described as a “stone axe factory” of the Langdale axe industry. Some of the oldest stone circles in Britain are connected with this industry.
Ever ince Roman times, farming and in particular of sheep, was the predominant industry in the region. The breed mainly associated with the area is the tough Herdwick, with Rough Fell and Swaledale sheep also common. Sheep farming remains important both for the economy of the region and for preserving the landscape which the many tourists want to see.
Features such as dry stone walls, for example, are there purely as a result of sheep farming. Land is also used for both silage and dairy farming. There are numerous plantations of non-native pine trees.
The area was severel affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak which hit the United Kingdom in 2001. Thousands of sheep, grazing on the fellsides across the District, had to be destroyed. In replacing the sheep, one problem that had to be overcome was that many of the lost sheep were heafed, that is, they knew their part of the unfenced fell and did not stray, with this knowledge being passed down through the generations.
With all the sheep lost at once, this knowledge has to be re-taught and some of the fells have had discreet electric fences strung across them for a period of five years, to allow the sheep to “re-heaf”.
Mining, mainly of copper, lead, often associated with quantities of silver, baryte, graphite and slate, was historically a major lakeland industry, particularly between the 16th century and 19th century. Woodland was used extensively to yield charcoal for smelting.
Some mining still takes place now, for example slate mining is still caried out at the Honister Mines, at the top of Honister Pass. Abandoned mines can be found on fell-sides all over the district. Locally-mined graphite led to the development of the pencil industry, in particular around Keswick.
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