"Government axe could kill off hill communities"
By Boyd Champness
HILL communities in the Welsh uplands will become ghost towns if the Government introduces or accepts moves to axe support for hill farmers, landowners have warned.
The Country Landowners Association has pledged to fight for the continuation of hill livestock compensatory allowances (HLCAs), which have been a major lifeline for rural communities in the uplands for 50 years.
The future of HLCAs is uncertain following a Government study into the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the support scheme. This, coupled with the prospect of further cutbacks through reforms to the EU common agricultural policy (CAP), has hill farmers worried about their future. The CLA argues that the UK Government should pick up the bill if reforms to CAP cut hill allowances.
The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, is carrying out an economic evaluation of HLCAs, commissioned by the Welsh Office, as part of a comprehensive spending review announced by the Ministry of Agriculture.
CLA North Wales regional secretary Judith Matthews said HLCAs were originally introduced by the UK Government after World War II in recognition of the hardships and commercial disadvantages faced by farmers in upland areas.
Ms Matthews said when HLCAs were first introduced there was also an awareness that, without public support, the hills would suffer widespread depopulation because farming communities would lose the struggle to maintain their livelihoods.
“Indeed, 50 years after their inception, the case for HLCAs is as strong as ever. Extreme weather conditions and difficult terrain still result in higher costs and lower returns and place the hill farmer at a serious disadvantage in the market place,” she said.
The CLA also claims that if hill grazing is no longer viable, the uplands would be left to be overtaken by scrub and dereliction. HLCAs have contributed to conserving the upland environment as well as maintaining local communities, the CLA statement says.
However, environmental groups argue that overgrazing by Welsh upland farmers by as many as 10 sheep to the acre, instead of the accepted three, is ruining the moors.