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Defra officials face-to-face with hill farmers

[Tuesday 8 December 2009]

Officials from the environment department Defra and its countryside quango Natural England, often criticised for their lack of understanding of the hardships of hill farming, have been given a face-the-farmer tour in some of the remotest areas of Northern England.

They visited upland farms in the Lake District and the northern Pennines accompanied by advisers from the Country Land and Business Association and experienced first hand not just some of the challenges facing hill farmers but also some of the foul weather they have to contend with.

CLA National Conservation Adviser Claire Collyer, who accompanied the group throughout their tour, commented: "This was an extremely thought provoking and valuable exercise, and a good opportunity to show government the range of upland businesses that are working in these areas, as well as the opportunities and challenges they face.

"Both Natural England and Defra are keen to work more closely on uplands issues with the CLA and our members, and we have already agreed to continue discussions on several issues in the short-term.

"Only by visiting farmers on the ground was it possible to hear first hand about the challenges and concerns such as the debate surrounds the Uplands Entry Level Stewardship scheme and frustrations regarding the single payment scheme.

"I thank these busy people for having the willingness and the time to find out the true situation. This can only make for more relevant policies."

Government officials recently suggested that livestock numbers on hill farms should be cut by 75%, which would make many of them bankrupt. One of the aims of the tour was to point out the important work the farmers do – unpaid – in maintaining the landscape in areas popular with visitors.

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