7 January 2002
Farmers want say over South Downs

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS affected by plans to designate the South Downs as a national park want adequate representation on a future national park authority.

Producers are expected to turn out in force for a meeting organised by the Countryside Agency in Lewes on Wednesday (9 January).

Farmers will insist that they are fully represented on any future national park authority, according to the National Farmers Union.

They will also say they want to reinforce the point that the landscape of the downs will only be maintained by a profitable agriculture.

Shaun Leavey, NFU south east regional director, said the government must remember that farmers manage 80% of the landscape in question.

“Farmers have serious reservations about any national park authority on which they do not have adequate representation.

Mr Leavey said the Countryside Agency must do more than appoint one token farmer if it chose to have an authority with almost 50 members.

“Assuming it has 46 members, it would be perfectly reasonable to expect half a dozen land-management representatives on it,” he said.

Representatives could include farmers, estate managers or foresters.

Mr Leavey said financial incentives would have to be offered to farmers if the park authority wanted to change land-management practices.

If it wanted arable farmers to turn their land over to grass it would have to persuade people with significant sums of money, he predicted.

“The whole South Downs concept will be a hollow sham unless the government and Countryside Agency deliver on the ground,” he said.