More than 90% of England’s hill farmers have failed to apply for Upland Entry Level Scheme payments and stand to miss out on vital cash.
Tenant Farmers Association vice chairman Stephen Wyrill said farmers had not realised the old system of Hill Farm Allowances had been axed and replaced with the UELS.
“This is disastrous. Many of the hill farmers I have spoken to appear to be unaware of the change. It is a significant concern,” said Mr Wyrill.
Natural England figures, obtained by the TFA, showed that just 886 farmers had applied so far out of 9408 who received payments through the HFA.
Requests for application forms had only reached 2488, just 38% of the possible total and well short of the Labour government’s original target of an 80% uptake for the scheme, Mr Wyrill added.
“I am also sure that the uptake is being affected by the complexity of the scheme,” he said, arguing that entry requirements had prevented some tenant farmers from applying.
“Many will not be allowed to join the scheme because they have tenancies of less than five years duration and so fail to meet one of the scheme requirements,” he said.
Others would no longer be eligible for support because their landlords were participating in the UELS or one of the schemes which underpinned it, he added.
“This is unfair and something about which we warned the last administration,” said Mr Wyrill.
“It is clear to me that the previous government policy’s for the uplands is not working.
“I have serious concerns that the extent of the decline in livestock numbers, now clearly evident, is having long-term, negative effects on the environment.
“The hills are dying because of the lack of livestock. Young farmers are losing out too and they are our future. The new government should develop policies that will put livestock back on the hills for the benefit of food farming and the environment,” said Mr Wyrill.
“This must be sorted out through talking to hill farmers and re-thinking how we approach upland issues,” he said.