Aid now lifeline in Welsh hill areas

26 April 2002

Aid now lifeline in Welsh hill areas

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

THE survival of traditional hill farming is increasingly dependent on environmental payments, a senior Welsh NFU office holder has warned.

Tom Ellis, chairman of the unions Merionethshire branch, said his 120ha (300 acres) rented farm, which once generated enough income to bring up three children, cannot stay in business without cash for protecting plants, animals and features like stone walls.

"When we started farming here, a store lamb was worth £5 and we spent £8/week on groceries, now we get £20/lamb and the food bill is £100," he said during an NFU organised visit to Tyddyn Du, Trawsfynydd.

Mr Ellis was the first farmer in the county to sign up for the Tir Gofal whole-farm agri-environment scheme because he could not make a living selling store lambs and store cattle. His wife Greta works part-time in a bank.

The 400 ewes and 18 suckler cows the severely disadvantaged farm can carry would not keep a young family, which is why almost every farmer in the area has to earn off-farm cash.

There was no money to pay sons or daughters so they moved out of farming and often out of the community. Wives were being forced to go out to work to keep businesses going. Enormous physical and mental pressure was being put on farmers working alone at home.

"The industry has been let down by the politicians, who seem unconcerned that whole rural communities are being destroyed, by low prices, regulations and bureaucracy."

Mr Ellis believes that it is an indictment of government policy that the business in which he has invested a lifetime now depends on land stewardship payments, rather than on the quality of what it produces.

The £5000 he will get through Tir Gofal over the next decade, for providing an educational footpath across part of the farm, could make the difference between the farms survival and bankruptcy.

"We are lucky to have features such as the remains of an old settlement, a stone cromlech and wartime artillery bunkers to show visitors. Most farms do not, and many farmers do not want strangers on their land.

"But hill farmers should be able to earn a living from farming, and have enough over to invest in protecting the countryside, as they always did in the past." &#42

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