Park authority reassures upland farmers over funding concerns

Tom Fawcett on his farm in Askrigg.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has moved to provide reassurance to farmers taking part in an pioneering scheme which is believed could rejuvenate upland agriculture while improving the environment.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority heard it was possible the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would confirm continued support for the continuation and extension of the payments by results-based project next month.

However, members voiced concerns the scheme could collapse if farmers pulled out of the scheme because Defra did not agree to the funding before the EU grant for the initiative runs out in September.

An officers’ report the authority stated the pilot project in Wensleydale, in which farmers are paid for work such as improving wildlife habitats, 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”.

The report also underlined how the environmental gains achieved by the scheme since its launch early last year, could be lost if the park authority did not guarantee funding.

Member Ian McPherson told the meeting the scheme had been judged to be “extremely welcome” by both farmers and Defra and the future of upland farming was one of the most important issues facing the authority.

He said: “Defra is looking for an agri-environmental scheme that it can roll out across the country and we are probably one of the major contenders.

“If we want to through away at least a year’s very hard work on the part of officers and members and in a sense abdicate any further responsibility for what agriculture might look like both in the Dales and the country then we can simply refuse to follow the recommendation. ”

Member Yvonne Peacock added it was vital for farmers to have long-term certainty about how they could keep their businesses viable.

She said: “This scheme is showing what can be the future. Our tourism industry is one of our biggest industries in the area and the majority of the time it is down to how it looks and it’s the farmers who do the work in the national park.”

The authority voted to spend up to £57,500 to cover the project’s cost for a further 12 months should Government funding not be given.