…and farming bodies qualify backing for a policy review
CALLS by the Wildlife Trusts for a government review of hill farming policy have drawn qualified support from farming organisations.
In a letter to farm minister Douglas Hogg, Wildlife Trusts director Dr Simon Lyster said that even though £190m had been spent on hill livestock compensatory allowances (HLCA) and the sheep annual premium, over 40% of hill farmers had an annual income of less than £10,000.
He called for better targeting of grant aid and further attention to over-grazing in less favoured areas.
Mr Hogg was also sent a list of areas in Cumbria where the Wildlife Trusts claim overgrazing is leading to extensive heather loss.
Nicholas Milton, Wildlife Trusts agriculture campaigns officer, called for a review of payments offered under MAFFs moorland scheme, introduced last year to reduce ewe numbers to meet stocking density limits.
Only 13 farmers entered the scheme in its first year, while just a handful of farmers, mainly in the south-west, had HLCAs withheld as a result of over-grazing.
Mr Milton argued the £25/year per HLCA eligible ewe removed from the flock was simply too low a financial figure, when compared to environmentally sensitive area and countryside stewardship payments.
He said it was time for farm organisations to look seriously at further decoupling measures as grant aid moved away from headage to area payments.
Tony Bailey, Country Landowners Association director of policy, backed a call for a move towards acreage payments. He said it would stop the ever-increasing pressure for farmers to increase numbers to maximise profits.
Mr Bailey added that the lack of shepherds due to tight management practices was also leading to over-grazing in some upland areas.
Dr Andrew Clark, NFU countryside policy adviser, agreed the moorland scheme should be reviewed, stressing it could be a lifeline to the farming community. In the meantime, the NFU would continue to press for greater HLCA support from the government.
The call for detailed consultation also received support from English Nature, which last year launched a grazing index to monitor over-grazing. The index has since been taken up by ADAS and the Peak National Park planning authority.
The Wildlife Trusts campaign has been deliberately launched to coincide with the Feb 4 deadline for HLCA claims.