New threat to Dales farming

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LIFE for farmers in the Yorkshire Dales has always been a struggle. The inhospitable terrain beloved of visitors in fact relies for much of its appeal on the work of farmers down the centuries as they rear lifestock on barren uplands.

In recent decades, their situation has worsened due to falling prices for beef and lamb. It has left the industry reliant on subsidies and barely scratching a living through traditional farming.

Now it seems their plight is set to worsen further as a new report warns of desperate times ahead due to EU cuts which could threaten the viability of hill farming in the Dales.

Single farm payments for hill farmers could plummet by up to 50 per cent with catastrophic effects including the creation of larger farms with fewer employees and some operations going part-time.

Farmhouses will be sold off without their land. Traditional skills – among them drystone walling – will be lost. Moorland will dramatically change its appearance with fewer sheep grazing.

The internationally-renowned Dales are clearly among the region’s greatest assets. But their beauty relies on a successful farming industry. If that disappears, it will simply become a heritage area lived in by commuters and older generations as priced-out younger families head elsewhere to look for work, leading to further declines in community life built around schools and village halls, and growing isolation for those who remain.

With high house prices and little affordable building in Dales communities, coupled with a decline in local industry that is already hitting communities hard, plans announced yesterday to scale back subsidies for public transport are a further sign of trouble ahead, as the coalition Government’s spending axe falls on more services.

The vital part played by farmers in maintaining flourishing Dales communities must be recognised by the coalition or its claims to represent the countryside will look increasingly shallow.

Ministers must insist Europe recognises farmers’ part in protecting and nurturing the landscape, and offer them new rewards which will ensure their continued survival. If they don’t, the whole of Britain will pay the price if countryside areas, loved by so many, fall into decline.