THE growing row over plans to cut EU subsidies for large farms reached boiling point yesterday after the Government was accused of threatening the end of the English countryside as we know it.
The attack came at an official conference organised by the environment department Defra from the head of the Country Land and Business Association, whose members own half the land in England and Wales.
As we reported on Tuesday, EU officials are considering large-scale cuts in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to the owners of large farms - including the Queen - but CLA President Henry Aubrey-Fletcher told the Farming for the Future conference that farmers must earn enough to continue to maintain the countryside.
Large farms, he implied, carry out the majority of this work - but, at the same time, hill farming in important landscape areas like the Yorkshire Dales was on the brink of becoming unsustainable.
He went on: ""We are at a crucial turning point. If we see the collapse of the livestock industry and more land ploughed up for arable crops or if we see land abandonment in some upland areas which support certain habitats, then the countryside that we all enjoy could disappear before our eyes."
Douglas Chalmers, Director CLA North welcomed the statement. He said: "Everything that society claims to value in the countryside is a direct or indirect benefit produced by those who live and work there.
"If land managers cannot remain on the land, the environment will suffer, jobs will be lost and rural communities become unsustainable. The cost of dealing with these problems would be far greater to the public purse than if we could support who and what is already in place.
"The last agricultural recession in the 1930s led to large areas of land abandonment, but then no one noticed. Now they would, and Government would need to act. This last year has been a financial disaster for upland farmers, and many will not be able to stand much more."