FARMERS HAVE joined forces with conservationists in the East of England to halt the number of farmers leaving livestock production.

An Undergrazing Programming Group has been created to work with the region‘s beef and sheep farmers so they can improve their profitability.

Conservationists are concerned that without grazing livestock many valuable wildlife habitats will be lost.
 
“Biodiversity in the region‘s grassland and in most of our wildlife reserves depends on regular grazing,” said group chairman Lady Caroline Cranbrook.

“Diverse habitats such as the Ouse Washes, the Breckland, the coastal and river valley grasslands of Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, all have to be grazed to maintain their wildlife.”

The group has identified a combination of factors which it believes are affecting the livestock industry.

These include increasing levels of imports, a decline in local abattoirs, consolidation in meat processing and retailing, and changes in the way support payments are paid.

Planned activities include training courses, support for local abattoirs, action plans for small environmental sites and closer co-operation between farmers and conservationists.

Michael Mack, project manager for DEFRA, said: “Our beef and sheep industry is small but it is critically important to the correct management of the region‘s grassland.

“The recent decline in cattle and sheep numbers and the diminishing infrastructure on which the industry depends is creating increasing environmental and economic problems for the region.”