New research by the National Trust highlights that hill farming is on the brink of a rapid, and unmanaged collapse, without help through the major changes it faces.
|Grazing cattle such as these Blue Greys may be lost from upland areas
The National Trust looks after some 150,000 hectares of land in upland areas and research across 60 of its tenanted hill farms suggests that the majority of upland farms are facing severe falls in income. The separation of support payments from agricultural production has exposed the stark reality that livestock farming in the hills simply is not profitable and in many cases will be a loss making exercise.
Under the new system hill farmers will not have to keep livestock in order to receive their CAP payments and there is a real risk that we will lose the grazing animals which are vital for the management of some of our most spectacular landscapes and wildlife.
Some farms will see their support payments halved over the next five years, which could force large numbers of farms to go out of business before they have had the chance to adapt to the new CAP reforms.
From the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales, the uplands are dependent on livestock farming to maintain their character and wildlife and the loss of hill farming would have a severe impact upon vast tracts of some of England's most famous landscapes.
Faced with this threat, the Trust is calling on government to put in place more effective transition arrangements to enable hill farmers to adapt to the daunting economic climate they now face. The Trust warns that if help is not provided quickly, the tourism and environmental benefits of upland land management could be permanently lost.
The uplands should benefit from the welcome CAP reforms which finally ended the production-based subsidies that for decades had caused extensive environmental damage to many upland areas. But the reforms have not been accompanied by sufficient transitional support to enable upland farmers to diversify or to reward them sufficiently for providing environmental and access benefits. The result is that farmers have been left without a viable means of managing our uplands and many will not make it through this period of change.
Speaking at a major landscape conference this Friday, Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, will highlight the urgent need for action to manage the radical changes facing the uplands.
"Farming plays a crucial role in maintaining the landscape of some of England's most important upland areas. The Government needs to recognise fully the public value of upland farming which supports wildlife, maintains a rich and varied landscape, provides access to millions of people and underpins a vibrant tourism industry. Further measures are urgently needed to put upland farming on a more sustainable footing and avoid chaotic change in some of our most cherished landscapes."
David Riddle, Director of Land Use at the National Trust, commented,
"Our findings show that without proactive Government support to assist change and restructuring, the uplands face a bleak future. We are urging the Government to dramatically speed up the introduction of a range of transitional support measures including: targeted support for managing the upland environment and providing public access; advice and training opportunities to help hill farm businesses adapt; and a review of the preferential support for lowland areas."
1The conference "WG Hoskins and the Making of the English Landscape" is taking place at the University of Leicester between 7-10 July
The data for the research on upland farming is based on financial information taken from 60 National Trust tenanted upland farms in the Lake District, Northumberland, the Peak District and Yorkshire. The research particularly focused on the financial impact of the shift from historic payments, under the old CAP system, to the area payments under the Single Payment Scheme.
The research used the actual stocking figures and the area of land lying within the Severely Disadvantaged Area and Moorland Line as appropriate, to calculate the change in support payments during the eight year transition period (2004-2012). This shows that the basic payments will decrease by up to 50% compared to the purely historic payments under the previous 'coupled' CAP regime.
This threat has been revealed by new National Trust research into the economic prospects for 60 of our upland tenanted farms in The Lake District (see graph), Yorkshire Dales and Moors, The Peak District and Northumberland.
Our analysis shows that, unless there is radical change in farming in the uplands, by 2012 most farms will be making a loss. In the worst cases this shows farms with a negative net farm income (a loss) of more than £10,000.
The net farm income in the Lake District differs depending on the type of land that is farmed and whether that includes large areas of fell/moorland or not. Generally those with large areas of fell land (1 st and 2 nd column) are not as badly hit as those with smaller land areas as they will receive larger area payments in the future through the CAP.
These changes are already upon us. The retirement of a farmer in the Lake District for example, led us to carry out analysis which demonstrated there was no viable economic future for the farm. As a consequence the land will be split between the neighbouring farms and the house will be let separately. The loss of farm units such as this is an increasingly common occurrence and raises a number of concerns over how land will be managed to optimise public benefits in the future.
Why is this happening?
'Decoupling' of support payments from agricultural production under the CAP reforms introduced in January will expose the fact that many livestock enterprises are simply not profitable and most will make significant losses. As farmers will no longer have to keep livestock to claim the new CAP 'single payment' there will be no clear incentive to actively manage the land.
This means that such systems will have no prospect of covering the costs of individual farms, let alone giving a profit for the farmer. In the worst cases they will be a direct drain on farm business income. The impact of this is that many farmers will quickly realise they cannot afford to continue to keep grazing livestock.
What we want:
The CAP reforms introduced in 2005 will bring significant environmental benefits in the uplands. The past subsidy system has encouraged overgrazing that has caused environmental damage. Whilst the National Trust welcomes the reforms we are concerned that without further changes they may drive some farmers the other way, with the result that important areas of our uplands are no longer grazed. Finding a balance of farming that maintains and improves the environment and the public benefits it provides is our aim. This requires a managed process of transition rather than the faster and unplanned change which is in prospect.
We are sharing our research with the Government and other interested bodies to highlight our concerns about the future of land management in the uplands and seek common solutions.
We are asking that:
- The Government should produce a vision and clear strategy for the future of the uplands . We want them to show clear direction and leadership for the future of the countryside beyond agriculture.
- Further reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) is required so that public money is invested directly in delivering benefits the public wants and needs, such as environmental schemes.
- The current system of CAP payments in England is reviewed to address the significant difficulties that arise from lowland areas receiving more money than upland areas.
- The Government should develop the Hill Farm Allowance so it can be used in a more flexible way to underpin those upland businesses that are already delivering environmental schemes and public goods. The total budget should be increased to around £50m (from the current £27m).
- The Government should invest in the transition from production based agriculture to environmentally sensitive land management over the next 5-10 years. In order to do this we need to facilitate cultural change in the industry by providing an advice service for farmers that will help develop their businesses and skills and also help those who wish to retire or leave the industry.
- Change and restructuring of the farming sector is required over the next 10 years. We cannot escape change and need to work together to manage it and realise the opportunities it brings. The National Trust has an important role to play in this as a major landlord and farmer.