Scottish hill farming is facing a major threat due to the lack of young people working in the hills, according to NFU Scotland livestock convener Nigel Miller.

Speaking at Shantron Farm, Alexandria, during the first of a series of hill meetings organised by FWAG, NFU Scotland and Quality Meat Scotland, Mr Miller warned that the problem was the result of both social and economic factors.

“In some areas the number of people is dropping to such a dangerous level that gathering is becoming almost impossible and if you get to that critical tipping point the whole system faces collapse,” said Mr Miller.

“What we want is to have some signposts that there is a future worth having to get the next generation interested in hill farming.”

Last year had proved very difficult for hill lamb, he said, and discussions had been on-going throughout the winter between the NFUS and several major retailers with a view to marketing hill lamb as a luxury, added-value product.

He said that mixed messages about the environmental impact of sheep had also been confusing for hill farmers in recent years.

“There has been an agenda, probably driven by agencies in England, that hill sheep are not positive for the environment but FWAG and other organisations have demonstrated that at the stocking rates we have on hill units in Scotland sheep can be positive for maintaining heather moorlands biodiversity,” said Mr Miller.

He warned that a further pressure on hill farms was the provision of veterinary services.

“There are indications just now that some veterinary practices are finding it very problematic to recruit staff and there could be a very difficult situation arising in the next six months.

It may be that farmers have to accept a different sort of provision in the future,” he added.

Carol McLaren