Uplands landscape under threat if hill farming dies

Uplands landscape will be destroyed unless government launches a select committee enquiry into preserving hill farming, according to an environmental group.

Rachel Thomas, president of the Exmoor Society, wrote to DEFRA to complain that hill farmers earn, on average, only £9000 a year and receive the least funding in the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

Yet cattle grazing in uplands areas stops the moors from reverting to wilderness and provides a “mosaic” landscape which protects wildlife.

Cattle also prevent peat bogs, which trap carbon, from overgrowing and farmers maintain the clean water supply, she wrote.

The society has asked for the moorlands line to be removed from the SPS, giving all farmers equal payments.

It has also insisted that the Uplands ELS scheme, which will replace the Hill Farmers’ Allowance (HFA), takes into account the unique needs of hill farmers.

The National Trust told hill farmers on Wednesday (November 12) that they should make money in the future by diversifying into tourism and environmental management.

But Jeff Rooker, former DEFRA minister, told the House of Lords that diversification was “almost impossible” in upland areas.

The “essential” benefits farmers were bringing to the hills by providing access and maintaining the landscape instead needed to be recognised, he added.

Ms Thomas agreed that farmers’ environmental work provided a “huge public benefit”.

“But at the moment, farmers aren’t given enough payment for their environmental work to even keep them in business.”

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