Park authority considers financial support for Wensleydale farmers

Tom Fawcett on his farm in Askrigg.

A proposal to prevent the collapse of a pioneering scheme which could change the face of agriculture in a national park, just three months before EU funding for the initiative runs out, has been welcomed.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is set to consider using its reserves to provide financial support for Wensleydale farmers who have been paid by results to produce ‘public goods’, such as species-rich meadows or wetland habitats.

The payments subsidise the costs farmers face managing their land less intensively than they otherwise would to maximise profits.

The scheme has been hailed by Government ministers as a way to support upland agriculture post-Brexit.

In a report to the authority, its conservation and community director Gary Smith, said Whitehall officials had “indicated a clear intention to fund a continuation and significant expansion of the existing pilot in Wensleydale”.

However, EU funding for the scheme will end in September, meaning that funding needs to be found if the pilot is to continue.

Mr Smith said as the Department for Food and Rural Affairs had not confirmed it would provide funding before September, there was “a very obvious risk that the farmers currently in the scheme will start to make alternative plans”.

He said this could lead to the loss of the environmental gains and the public money that has gone into them, the loss of experience in implementing the results-based approach, hit the viability of the farms, and create significant difficulties and costs to re-start the scheme.

Members of the authority have been asked to consider using £57,500 from its coffers to extend and fund the scheme for up to 12 months, should Government funding not be forthcoming.

Mr Smith concluded: “The future of high nature value farming is fundamental to the achievement of the statutory purposes, for which the Yorkshire Dales National Park was designated, and to the local economy – not only because of the direct employment it provides but because it manages the landscape on which a multi-million pound tourism industry depends.”

He added the pilot project had begun to demonstrate practical ways to
incentivise the production of locally-distinctive, high-quality food in a way that delivers an outstanding range of public benefits.

One of the farmers in the pilot, Tom Fawcett, of Askrigg, said he welcomed the proposed intervention by the  park authority to keep the scheme running.

He urged the Government to provide the funding as soon as possible and said the only alternative to the scheme would be to farm his land more intensively, affecting meadows.

Mr Fawcett said: “This is a good scheme allowing farmers to get on with it, and I would like to see the extended to include dry stone walls and stone barns.

“At the end of the day, farming is a business. As long as people remember that we will be alright.”

1 Comment

  1. BREXIT means BREXIT, Richmondshire voted to Leave, this is the start of a bad process for the people, economy and environment in Richmondshire. Shouldn’t be leaving.

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