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Praise but concern on new hill farm scheme

[Wednesday 10 Febuary 2010]

New grants announced yesterday (Feb 9) to benefit hill farmers for their environmental conservation work were received with both praise and criticism from different farming bodies.

Defra staged an impressive press call on a Cheshire farm when Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies launched the Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme, which would “support and reward farmers for looking after the biodiversity and landscape of England’s historic uplands.”

The announcement drew praise from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which urged hill farmers to “grasp this lifeline.” But it was attacked by tenant farmers who fear many of them will be excluded from the new benefits.

The new ELS will replace the existing hill farm allowance (HFA) and is supposed to improve the lot of upland farmers who work areas like the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, some of the most prized landscapes in England but also amongst the toughest terrains from which to make a living.

But as the launch was underway, the Tenant Farmers’ Association launched an attack on the scheme because farmers with short-term leases would not benefit and, in other cases, the grants would go to the landlords and not the working tenants.

The TFA has joined a protest group called the Tenancy Reform Industry Group to advise hill farmers who may lose out on the new system in the following circumstances:

  • Agricultural tenancies with less than five years to run
  • Tenancies involving public bodies as landlords
  • Tenancies where the landlord is already an ELS or other scheme agreement holder on the let land
  • Grazing licences
  • Grazing licences where the ELS applicant is the licensor (owner or tenant)
  • Grazing licences involving public bodies as landlords

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn commented “In view of the new eligibility criteria some hill farm allowance claimants who farm other people’s land will find themselves ineligible to enter Uplands ELS unless timely discussions are held between them and the owners of the land and practical solutions are found to alter land occupation arrangements or tenancy terms. However, time is short and action must be taken now.”

The CLA took an opposite view. President William Worsley, who farms in North Yorkshire, urged people to grasp the opportunity which “could provide a lifeline for struggling hill farms.”

He went on: “With the demise of the Hill Farm Allowance, it was important that a new scheme was up and running as soon as possible and I am pleased that this has happened. I would encourage landowners, tenants, graziers and commoners to discuss their needs with each other and Natural England as soon as possible, so that the available funds go to those who deserve them.”

Uplands ELS agreements will start this July. In order to make the first agreement start date, fully completed applications will have to be received by Natural England by 1 May.

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