12 November 1999

HFI says back hill farmers with lottery money

By Isabel Davies

NATIONAL Lottery cash should be used to help pay for rural schemes to support hill farmers, according to representative body the Hill Farming Initiative.

The HFI is urging the government to look at alternative sources of funds to support the struggling sector. And it believes that upland areas could qualify for culture and heritage payments from lottery funds.

Representatives attending a meeting with junior farm minister Elliot Morley last week, told him the government must radically overhaul its system of support payments.

The current subsidy system was not value for money and unless there was a radical overhaul there would be no hill farmers and no one to maintain upland areas, the representatives warned.

Outlining the details of a multi-choice scheme, they suggested farmers should be paid a core payment for meeting basic environmental and husbandry requirements.

And further payments, funded from the lottery, made if a farmer delivered cultural, educational, or public access type benefits.

Alastair Davy, HFI spokesman, told farmers weekly that he believed the public would support the idea because Less Favoured Areas were how they perceived the countryside should be.

"It is easy for the public to see that image and be able to empathise with it. They see it as an acceptable form of farming because so much of it is totally natural," he said. Although there was the will to help those farming in LFAs, delivering the financial side was a problem for government. "This is a way round it," he said.

Although the suggestion raises questions about where responsibility for supporting rural areas lies, the concept of using lottery money may be gaining favour.

The Cabinet Office report on the future of rural economies, leaked last month, is believed to suggest Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance should be replaced by a new payment, part-funded from the lotterys New Opportunities Fund.

Payments would be dependent on the farmer complying with environmental conditions.

A spokesman for the fund, which was developed to distribute money to health, education and environmental initiatives, said there would be funding for environmental schemes but it was too early to say what these would be.

Meanwhile a spokesperson from the Heritage fund said it would be impossible to pay lottery money directly to individual farmers, but it might be possible to channel it through an intermediary body.

According to Mr Davy this would not be a problem. "Someone would have to make a bid for the money, and we suggest the Regional Development Agencies," he said. &#42