Hundreds of new farm-based business ventures have been helped by the Penrith-based Fells and Dales LEADER+ Project since its launch four years ago.

Project officer Veronica Waller is in no doubt that landscape, location, tourism and the public’s positive perception of the “naturalness” of food produced from hill farms are a big asset.

“Hill farming can often find ways of generating non-farming income more readily than lowland farms.

It’s not the solution to hill farming’s difficulties but it can help to keep farms viable,” she says.

The Rural Futures Group, with help from the Fells and Dales LEADER+ Project has also led the way in tackling the labour shortage on hill farms through its Fell Farming Traineeship scheme.

This brought together a group of young people who provided an apprenticeship-style labour force that was shared between a group of hill farmers in central Lakeland.

Geoff Brown, head man of the The Fells and Dales LEADER+ Project, says it’s now up to the government to look at initiatives that could offer young people a long-term future working in the hill farming sector.

“Every effort must be made to come up with effective incentives to assist young people in these areas.

If the hills are deprived of input from future generations – be that either farming or providing other countryside and environment skills – the landscape will have to be maintained through direct public funding.”