SPECIAL payments made to Britain's hill farmers will be boosted by 10% next year, a welcome step in recognition of the invaluable work upland farmers play in maintaining the landscape in the Yorkshire Dales and other national parks.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is upping the grant from a total of £37.4 million to £41.1 million - a bigger increase than previously thought likely - in a move which has been greeted with approval by organisations which have campaigned for more support for hill farmers, who are leaving the land in ever-increasing numbers.
NFU Deputy President Tim Bennett commented: "This rise in payments is very good news. Farming in the uplands is unquestionably important for both the landscape and the rural economy and we are pleased that the Government has recognised this."
The NFU orchestrated a long-running campaigning for more Government support to enable farmers to continue caring for the world-renowned upland landscape, which is amongst the most difficult and least productive land to farm.
NFU Less Favoured Areas Chairman William Jenkins said: "Hill farmers will welcome this increase in payment rates. It means that the support they will get in 2003 will be much higher than anyone expected."
However, the NFU remains concerned that the "safety net" payment - intended to compensate for loss of income following changes to the way hill farmers are supported - will fall from 80% to 50%, before disappearing for good in 2004.