Partnership between farmers and national park officials could save hill farms, meeting hears

Upland farming in Coverdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The developing partnership between farmers and national park officers could save some hill farms from dereliction if and when the single farm payment is phased out, the Association of Rural Communities was told at its annual general meeting.

Its chairman, Alastair Dinsdale, who has a dairy farm at Carperby in Wensleydale praised the team at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) which is involved in pioneering some of the agri-environment schemes that could be rolled out nationally.

He has been involved in the three year agri-environmental scheme which was funded by the EU to test the payment by results in Wensleydale and several other areas of the country.

The Government is now directly funding those for a further two years.

Mr Dinsdale said he was encouraged by the way the YDNPA’s team was working with the farmers. “The involvement of the National Park has been quite impressive. It has grasped that there is a clear link between farming and the landscape.

“I feel we have a partner. It is wholly different from years ago when the Authority didn’t acknowledge the social and economic importance of those who lived and worked in the national park.”

This is something that the Association of Rural Communities has campaigned about for over 20 years.

Mr Dinsdale was, however, still very concerned about the future of hill farming. He said: “Without the Single Farm Payment the vast majority of the agricultural hill businesses are not sustainable. The environmental payments which are emerging will have great difficulty in matching that funding which is desperately needed to keep these people on the land.

“I am sure people will leave the land. Given the [average] age of farmers, the farming community will look at this as the final straw. We may have a period where we see dereliction in certain areas.

“The people who are developing these new policies haven’t grasped that this funding [Single Farm Payments] is necessary to produce a living off these farms.”“We need to make sure that the funding coming in for the environment will keep people on the land and keep the National Park looking like we all want it to be.”

In his speech he especially remembered the association’s founder, Tom Knowles, who had inspired them to campaign for more consistency in planning and a better working relationship between Authority’s officials and those living and working in the National Park. He also paid tribute to a former chairman of the association, Stephen Butcher.

Both Mr Knowles and Mr Butcher died this year. “I don’t think people have acknowledged what they really achieved,” he said.

He thanked Jack Heseltine and Pip Pointon for continuing to monitor the Authority’s planning committee meetings and Mrs Pointon for producing ARC News Service reports on behalf of the association.

The government has been informed this week by the the YDNPA about the significant and central role of farmers and landowners in maintaining the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

At the YDNPA Full Authority meeting on Tuesday December 18 the members approved the Authority’s Review of Designated Landscapes which was then submitted to the government. This will be used to compile the government’s review of National Parks and Areas of Natural Beauty (AONB) as part of its 25 Year Environment Plan.

The YDNPA review stated: “The Yorkshire Dales NPA has a close working relationship with farmers and land managers. This has been developed over many years with the Authority sometimes running its own local agri-environment schemes, as well as supporting the delivery of national schemes (and occasionally directly delivering them).

“The most high-profile example currently is the ‘Payment by Results’ pilot project in Wensleydale. This builds on the wider work of the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership and the Northern Hill Farming Panel, which identified the need for action to support ‘High Nature Value farming’. In particular, it identified a need for ‘a more collaborative approach to the delivery of agri-environment schemes, using the skills and knowledge of HNV farmers to deliver environmental outcomes in a way that allows the whole farm to work and make sense as a system.”

The review continued: “From our experience through the pilot [scheme] and the wider feedback from farmers we believe that National Park Authorities should be involved in the direction, co-design and delivery of the new environmental land management scheme. The aim being to provide a system that is responsive to our landscapes and farming practices; that better integrates and works alongside local farmers and land managers and ensures positive outcomes for nature and those who work the land.

“These schemes should be: locally-tailored and locally-administered; based on a more collaborative approach that uses the skills and knowledge of the sort of High Nature Value farmers found in the National Park; paid by results not by adherence to a tangle of rules and prescriptions; and focus on delivering multiple benefits (biodiversity, water management, heritage etc).”

The review also considered the socio-economic impact of National Park and AONB authorities on those who lived and worked in those areas especially at a time of large demographic shifts (including the movement of young people),  the huge increase in the number of second homes and holiday lets, and the reduction in key local services such as transport, post offices and the roll-out of broadband and mobile telecommunications.

It stated that there were significant market failures in relation to housing and a chronic shortage of affordable housing and added: “These are national rather than local or even just rural issues.”

Richmondshire District councillor Yvonne Peacock emphasised that the YDNPA should have a duty to the social and economic wellbeing of those who lived and worked in the National Park.

And North Yorkshire County councillor John Blackie said that the way forward was to encourage more self-help projects like those in Hawes.

The full report can be seen at here.

ARC News Service