23 August 2002

Dales tourist trade under threat from small farm exodus

By Nigel Burnham

AN exodus of family farmers is threatening classic English landscapes in the Yorks Dales, a report has warned.

Smaller farms forced out business are being absorbed by increasingly large agri-businesses, according to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authoritys first State of the Park report.

The flight from the land is making redundant the traditional barns and walls landscape of valleys like Swaledale.

Clive Kirkbride, who compiled the report, said: "The landscape is a product of farming, so changing farming must result in changes in the landscape.

"If people value that landscape, then changes to it caused by farmers going out of business will have an impact on tourism."

Tourism, the main industry of the Dales, could be badly affected if the landscapes take a turn for the worse and lose their appeal to visitors, said Mr Kirkbride.

Fifty years ago, more than 850 of the areas farms were smaller than 20ha (50 acres), but today there are fewer than 230 small farms, while the number of farms of over 50ha (125 acres) has trebled to 570.

Mr Kirkbride said efforts to survey the condition of barns and stone walls and arrange grants for repairs had only been been partially successful.

"The problem is going to continue to get worse because for every one barn we repair, another is going out of use."

Bigger farms are more viable because they can make economies of scale, using huge tractors that will not fit in the old-fashioned barns. But the barns and limestone walls that are no longer needed frequently fall into disrepair.

Most farms can no longer support staff to repair even those walls that are still needed. Many farmers are forced to take the cheaper option of putting up fencing instead.

A survey 10 years ago showed 61% of barns were in poor condition, compared with only 42% now, but changes in farming practice mean more are under threat. &#42