WORKING FARMS have been identified as the one part of the countryside the public is most worried about losing.

In a major survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, 2400 out of nearly 7000 respondents indicated the future of working farms was their top rural concern.

Ian Woodhurst, CPRE‘s senior rural policy officer, said: “The survey results demonstrate how fundamental working farms are to what people really value about the countryside.

“The CPRE has campaigned for many years for reform of the old CAP, which encouraged intensive agricultural practices and over-production that had devastating consequences for our landscapes and wildlife.

Mr Woodhurst said now that payments were no longer tied to production, it was essential more of the money paid to farmers went towards restoring the character of landscapes.

“We need to ensure farmers have the long-term funding they need to farm in a way that produces clear public benefits from public money,” he said.

The survey asked respondents to identify three aspects of the countryside they fear may disappear.

After working farms, the next two aspects perceived to be under threat were hedgerows and flower-rich meadows.

These were both elements of the landscape that farmers can provide through their countryside management role, the CPRE pointed out.

“Our valued landscapes are maintained through farming practices, but if farmers can’t afford to work the land, who would perform this task?” asked Mr Woodhurst.

“Buying this skilled countryside management from providers other than farmers is likely to be impractical and expensive.”

He called on the government to ensure that a greater share of European rural development funding is directed to expanding agri-environment schemes.

Mr Woodhouse added: “In the longer term, it is vital that agricultural subsidies are not diverted to funding unsustainable development projects.

“Instead, they need to benefit farming schemes that allow the expansion of environmentally beneficial farming in England and throughout Europe.”