Environmental bodies must not lose sight of the important role upland sheep farms have to play in creating a sustainable countryside, said farmers at NSA Sheep 2012.

Speaking at a seminar, Derbyshire tenant upland farmer Robert Helliwell said productivity from hill sheep was a key driver in keeping rural communities alive, and environmental bodies needed to look more closely at the value sheep give to upland areas producing meat and wool from coarse vegetation.

“Certain bodies think the uplands need to change, but they need now consider how that change will impact on the environment and the community. And my main concern is that we are going to get requests to take sheep off the moors in the winter,” he said.

“Everything needs to be balanced; we need economic sustainability in order to keep communities alive, and we have got to look at environmental sustainability because we don’t want to damage what we have got on this earth because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Lowland sheep producer Adrian Dolby from Barrington Park Estate added: “There are two forms of sustainability – financial and environmental – and you cannot have one without the other.”

Natural England board member Will Cockbain (pictured) said the body was gathering further evidence on what sustainable stocking rates entail.

“I would say farmers who chose to ignore the environmental agenda will not be sustainable in the long term, and equally environmental people cannot think they can erase agriculture and food production from the agenda,” he added.

“We talk about sustainable intensification but I much prefer the phrase ‘optimal land use’. We need to strike that sensible balance between the environment and food production.”

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