National centre for hill farming launched

A new national agricultural centre for has been launched in Cumbria to promote innovation in uplands hill farming.

The National Centre for the uplands, based at Newton Rigg College, Penrith, is the result of collaboration with York University and Duchy College to lead training and research into hill farming and land management.

Julia Aglionby, a nationally renowned uplands and commons land expert, took up the role as director of the centre on 1 December.

“My aim is for the centre to be the focus for education, training and discussion about hill farming and the uplands, combining farm practice and research evidence to inspire excellence,” she said.

“My passion is to act as a bridge between farmers, organisations and businesses with an interest in the rural community, whether that’s landowners, the government, tourism bodies or environmental organisations.”

In England, there are about 13,000 upland holdings, but it is estimated that more than 60% of farmers will give these up within the next 15 years.

Therefore, a key objective of the centre will be providing education and the necessary skills to equip farmers who are taking over.

Plans for the centre include:

• Undertaking and publishing research into hill farming and land management in collaboration with York University Environment Department• Using Newton Rigg’s Low Beckside farm as a demonstration farm for both research and training• Running training programmes on topics ranging from upland management through to practical skills such as dry stone walling• Organising events, including conferences, to stimulate discussion about the role of hill farming and the part it plays in environmental management

As well as being a focus for study by the college’s own students, the centre will be used for school visits and as a centre for developing rural apprenticeships.

It is also envisaged that a volunteer network of farmers will be established to provide practical help during peak times on the agricultural calendar.

Will Cockbain, of the NFU’s Upland Group, said: “Years 2010/11 were two good years in the uplands. But with the combination of a very bad summer and the general economic malaise in the country, we’re heading for a downturn – the National Centre for the Uplands will help farmers manage this effectively.”

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