DEFRA unveils £26m hill farming package

The government has announced a £26m package to secure the future of England’s hill farmers.

The measures, unveiled as part of the long-awaited Uplands Policy Review, include £6m to help hill farmers undertake environmental management.

They also include a Rural Community Broadband Fund worth up to £20m, aimed at stimulating upland rural areas disadvantaged by poor internet connections.

Launching the 50-page review document in Penrith, Cumbria, DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman said the uplands had often been neglected by policymakers.

“The English uplands are not in crisis, but nor can we afford to be complacent about their future,” she said.

“The uplands have often been neglected by policymakers, but this government attaches great importance to these special places.”

Mrs Spelman said a key challenge was to ensure hill farmers were adequately rewarded so that providing public goods alongside producing food became a core element of the hill farming sector.

“There are enormous opportunities for the uplands as thriving, competitive farming businesses delivering food to the market in a sustainable way; management of ecosystem services to enhance the natural environment and biodiversity and a growing, green economy that can help build resilience to climate change,” she added.

The minister said she was confident the review would help hill farming become more secure economically as a producer of food and as a steward of the upland environment and reaffirmed the government’s intention to develop “affordable measures of support” for hill farmers.

“Our intention is to support and encourage all hill farmers to improve the competitiveness of their core agricultural business, but at the same time it’s vital they grasp opportunities to diversify – whether as managers of the natural resources and ecosystems of the uplands or through other business opportunities.”

The review also announced an “Uplands Theme” to be created within the latest delivery arrangements for the Rural Development Programme for England.

The theme will provide either targeted support to upland areas through specific schemes or weighting towards the uplands in national schemes.

“It’s intended to support improvements in hill farmers’ competitiveness, skills, professionalism and ability to diversify and ensure funding is available to allow all farmers in Severely Disadvantaged Areas to enter Uplands Entry Level Stewardship,” says the review.

Existing Uplands ELS guidance would also be updated to help those grazing common land to have applications processed more speedily, the review adds.