The drive by Natural England to persuade hill farmers to cut livestock numbers in favour of grant-aided environmental schemes threatens to destroy England’s uplands, claims the Tennant Farmers’ Association.
The traditional hill farming lifestyle will be put at risk in future generations if the policy succeeds, the association said in a hard-hitting statement issued yesterday (Monday, October 20).
Under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, stocking densities in some upland areas could fall by as much as 75% as farmers are enticed into Environmental Stewardship Schemes because of the higher financial returns available than through current livestock production systems, the statement claims.
This will have significant knock on effects for the livestock industry, not only in the supply of home produced beef and lamb but in the future availability of the skills needed to produce it. With current worries about food security, the TFA is questioning whether Natural England has considered the wider impacts of its policy.
TFA North East Regional Chairman Ken Lumley said “The uplands are not naturally formed. Hill farming land management has created the uplands we have today, including all the biodiversity that everyone values so highly.
“ To reduce stocking levels, with debatable short term environmental benefit, as the main qualification for stewardship schemes, is dangerous as it disrupts the sustainable balance that has existed in the uplands over many generations.
TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “It is quite clear that those who designed the new scheme have little knowledge of how upland farming works. If they did, they would not have disenfranchised a whole raft of tenant farmers and graziers from accessing the scheme.
“The scheme should have been able to accommodate short duration agreements and landlords who have let their land out for others to farm should never have had access to these schemes in the first place.” The TFA is working with the Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG) to produce guidelines for landowners, tenants and graziers in an attempt to minimise the problems that will occur with this new scheme.