Farming minister visits Coverdale farms to see new agri-environment scheme in action

George Eustice (fourth from left), William Utley and Helen Keep (hand in the air)

The Farming Minister has visited Coverdale to see the trial of a new style of agri-environment scheme.

George Eustice met William Utley of Bridge End Farm in West Scrafton last Thursday, as well as Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) officers, Adrian Shepherd and Helen Keep.

The officers were representing the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership (LNP).

Mr Utley is receiving payments for producing good quality habitat for breeding waders such as curlew, snipe, lapwing and redshank.

Unlike other agri-environment schemes, he has no land management prescriptions to follow, but can farm as he sees fit in order to achieve positive environmental outcomes.

19 farms in the Wensleydale catchment area are taking part in the three-year Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme.

It is one of only two pilots in the UK, in a project being co-ordinated and managed by Natural England.

Mr Eustice, who also met members of the recently established Northern Hill Farming Panel, described the northern uplands as precious.

He noted the importance of cutting red tape and of having simple agri-environment schemes.

He also discussed how in the future, schemes could be designed to fit the locality, rather than a one-size-fits-all national approach.

He said: “As we prepare to leave the EU, we will be designing a food and farming system tailored to our needs. It was great to visit Yorkshire to hear local farmers’ ideas about how they can become more productive, while protecting the hills and dales and dry-stone walls that make the Yorkshire landscape so iconic.”

“We want everyone to have their say and help shape the discussion around our exit from the EU, to ensure we build the right policies. We are determined to get the best deal possible – and not least for our farmers.”

YDNPA’s senior farm conservation officer, Helen Keep, said: “The Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership was delighted to welcome George Eustice to the Yorkshire Dales.

“We gave him information that our farmers and the Northern Upland Chain LNP hope will help him develop post-Brexit legislation and funding for the uplands.

“In particular, we showed him the Payment by Results pilot scheme, which in our view is a good example of a more effective way of delivering agri-environment objectives.

“It works on the principle that farmers know their land better than anyone, and should not be required to follow prescribed land management methods.

“The overall message from the LNP and farmers was simple:  we’d like the farm payment schemes of the future to be designed locally and delivered locally.”

The chief executive of Natural England, James Cross, was also at the Coverdale farm for Mr Eustice’s visit.

He said he was very supportive of the Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme:

“The project recognises and builds on the expertise of farmers and land managers, puts trust at the heart of the relationship, and rewards outcomes and results for conservation. The pilot is one of a number of options we are exploring to help ensure England’s nature and landscapes are protected for wildlife and people to enjoy for generations”.