New group to plot upland farm futures in the Dales

Picture by James Hardisty.
Picture by James Hardisty.
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A dedicated working group will be set up in the Yorkshire Dales to develop ideas for how the future of hill farming can be secured at a “critical” time for the industry.

In what is seen as a significant period for influencing the direction of new government policy for agriculture, the group will offer detailed proposals by the end of the year for how upland farmers within the National Park can be financially supported when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019.

The six-strong group, which consists of local farmers and national park authority members, is being formed following a paper produced on behalf National Parks across England which sets out to government some early ideas for how farmers can be better supported and land better managed to deliver “a more robust economic future that delivers more environmental benefits”.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority approved the establishment of the group at its annual meeting held in Bainbridge yesterday.

During the summit, David Butterworth, the authority’s chief executive said the starting point for farming in the Dales after Brexit should be to set an “extremely ambitious” target of retaining the present number of farm holdings in the National Park.

The working group’s proposals will hone in on how new farm payments and agri-environment schemes could be structured.

Mr Butterworth said: “The Brexit negotiations have begun. The day when the government puts in place a new agricultural policy for England is getting nearer. We need to make sure that the voice of Dales farmers is heard. One thing is for sure: a one-sized-fits-all policy will not work for us.”

He added: “This is a time of great uncertainty for many farmers. As they do more than anyone to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the National Park, it is an uncertain time for the Authority, too. However, Brexit does represent a significant opportunity to improve the profitability of farming and the environmental outputs that are so critical to achieving our statutory purposes.”

The policy discussion paper submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier in the year by National Parks England asserted that it was vital that new English farming policy includes “locally-led agri-environment schemes”.

Ian McPherson, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s member champion for the Natural Environment, has been appointed as chairman of the new Dales working group, and he said: “The future of existing agri-environmental schemes is extremely uncertain. Many solutions are being considered both at a national and local level.

“This is a critical time for the future of uplands farming and it is hoped that the Authority, working with partners, can play a leading role in helping to shape the future of a balanced agricultural and environmental policy for our area.”

According to National Parks England, national park authorities are well placed to play a central role in shaping the future of farming and land management within parks and in ways that would give a “triple dividend” of an enhanced environment, improved productivity and more vibrant communities.

An early model set out in its paper to government sets out three, linked policy components to achieve its vision.

It proposes a National Park FARM (Farming and Rural Management) Scheme to support farmers in delivering a base or foundation level of environmental husbandry and public goods; a FARM Plus option that would see locally-led agri-environment schemes developed for each National Park in England; and, a Wider Rural Development stream through which local resources are provided for wider rural development.