Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Dartmoor National Park Authority

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) has real concerns about the long term viability of hill farming on Dartmoor. We are already witnessing a trend of farmers "turning their back" on moorland management with potential loss of public benefits.

  There are two interlinked problems facing upland farming on Dartmoor. The first concerns long-term economic viability and the need for alternative income streams. The second, pertains to the need to re-engage with the farming community to allow them to become part of the process of designing solutions so that there is a clear sense of common purpose and ownership again. The public problem that flows from these two is sustaining the capacity to maintain moorland and all its benefits.

  The Authority is attempting to tackle this problem through a series of initiatives (in partnership with others) which seek to:

    — Empower the farming community and provide them with more responsibility for the design and delivery of agri-environment schemes—a farmer led approach to agri-environment.

    — Add value to the food and other products they produce.

    — Explore new payments for so-called ecosystem services.

    — Reduce their costs.

1.0  THE PROBLEM

  1.1  Today there is widespread concern over the future of farming in the uplands and recognition that the public benefits linked to these farming systems are under threat. For example English Heritage considers over half the Scheduled Monuments on Dartmoor are at risk due to the increasing amount of scrub and bracken. Uncontrolled vegetation growth is increasing the threat from fires and damaging some of the biological resources, especially the blanket bog and mires. Public access is reduced by impenetrable gorse, bracken and scrub, rank dwarf shrub and tussock grasses. The excessive amount of vegetation is also associated with increases in tick borne diseases affecting both livestock and human health. All these unwelcomed developments are a result of insufficient appropriate grazing.

  1.2  Stock numbers have been reduced since 90% of the moorland came under ESA or HLS agreements. In 2007 a survey of hill farmers on Dartmoor found that over 40% of farmers had reduced the number of their suckler cows and breeding ewes. Natural England have estimated that within all the agri-environment schemes (ESA and HLS) there is about a 30% shortfall in the total LSU (Livestock Units) permitted on the moor in summer—the peak grazing season. Defra's recent Farm Practices survey 2009—Uplands and other LFAs reached a similar conclusion, stating "there is clear evidence of a reduction in grazing levels particularly on moorland".

  1.3  Research by the University of Exeter and Duchy College in 2008 identified the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) as the main cause of decline in economic viability of hill farms in South West England. It states that moorland farms "will be hit even harder than average by the changes in SPS payments; where mixed grazing livestock farms are projected to lose 27% of their SPS payment between 2006 and 2012, the effects on these moorland farms are widely expected to be even greater, with cuts of 40% possible". This study concluded: "reductions of this magnitude are likely to have very significant impacts on the viability of SW hill farms: average Farm Business Income is projected to fall by 34% solely due to the effects of the SPS, rising to a cut of 64% for the larger `mixed grazing livestock' farms". Faced with falling public support it is easy to see why hill farmers are turning away from the moorland to increase the profitability of their farming by acquiring and focusing on more productive land (not moorland) "downslope". The introduction of the Upland Entry Level Scheme whilst welcomed will not provide a total solution.

  1.4  As hill farmers turn their attentions elsewhere, in addition to the loss of their stock, the skills and experience required to manage what is a complex and unique environment are also at risk. There is a significant reduction in the critical mass, resulting in infrastructure failures, both on farms and through allied trades. Take up of the agri-environment schemes has been high but all too often it has been seen only as another form of financial support and not as a contract that recognises and celebrates their contribution towards managing the resources. Hill farmers want the opportunity to develop their roles beyond just being food producers, but also in providing and enhancing the public goods.

  1.5  In 2004 a survey of hill farmers on Dartmoor identified several issues that impinged on their ability to farm. These included the need to clarify what was expected of them by different agencies and found that most farmers wanted to be part of the process of designing solutions rather than just receiving funds. In response a unique project to create a shared vision for the moorland in 2030 was undertaken. It evolved into "The Dartmoor Vision" and is the result of collaboration between farmers, commoners, the Duchy of Cornwall and statutory agencies. The agencies represented included Natural England (or what was then: English Nature, Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service), Dartmoor National Park Authority, English Heritage, Environment Agency, and MOD). The partnership has agreed a map which all organisations use as a framework for management of the moorland on Dartmoor. It, inter alia, demonstrates the willingness of farmers on Dartmoor to participate in collaborative working in the long tradition of managing stock and land in common.[1]

2.0  TOWARDS A SOLUTION

  2.1  On Dartmoor we are seeking to address the problem outlined above through a number of workstreams:

Dartmoor Farming Futures

  2.2  This is a joint project with Dartmoor Commoners' Council with support from the Duchy of Cornwall, RSPB, South West Water and Natural England. It seeks to test a new approach to managing the public benefits associated with Dartmoor's moorland that:

    — Offers farmers and landowners more responsibility for the design and delivery of agri-environment schemes.

    — Focuses on the complete range of public benefits (ecosystem services) that are associated with upland farming (from food production to carbon sequestration) and identifies priorities for particular spatial areas.

    — Facilitates a collaborative approach to agreeing the outcomes sought, delivering the management required and assisting with the monitoring of the process.

    — Identifies the true costs of management to inform future debates about public support.

    — Assesses all funding streams: including the future role of private investment, the implications of CAP reform and identifies potential funding models for consideration by Government.

  2.3  It is focused on developing a more collaborative approach and offering farmers and landowners more responsibility for delivering the correct management of the moorland and its associated public benefits. We believe that by empowering the hill farming community to take back ownership and responsibility for moorland management, within a clear framework of delivering public benefits, the continued loss of the skills and experience necessary to manage these important assets will be halted and the foundation laid for a more sustainable farming future. We are trialling this approach in two areas on Dartmoor.

Dartmoor Hill Farm Project

  2.4  This project (led by the National Park Authority and Duchy of Cornwall) provides practical support for hill farmers as they seek to diversify their income base. It has developed "Moorskills"—an apprenticeship scheme to provide new entrants with training and skills in upland farming. It has also supported the establishment of the Dartmoor Farmers' Association—a co-operative involving over 40 Dartmoor farmers—that is now developing new markets for Dartmoor beef and lamb and looking at how it can deliver "ecosystem services". It has also supported a Mule Lamb group; a wood fuel cluster and a buying group. Future projects include "Farm Angels"—an idea to develop a network of trained farm administrators to provide support.

Dartmoor Mires Project

  2.5  This is a project funded by South West Water aimed at restoring mires and blanket bog to deliver water management and wider biodiversity and carbon sequestration benefits. Farmers and landowners are also involved in project management. It is part of the Mires on the Moors project, covering Exmoor as well as Dartmoor. On Dartmoor we have also been talking to South West Water about future revenue payments for ecosystem services provided as it is keen to look at how it might trial this (current scheme is restricted to capital payments).

2.6  A collaborative approach to the Upland Entry Level Scheme (UELS) introduction

  This is a farmer-led initiative supported by the National Park Authority and Dartmoor Commoners' Council and acknowledged by Natural England. It is looking at how UELS can be rolled out efficiently across the whole moor to reduce administrative costs and speed up the application process.

  2.7  Together they provide the ingredients for an integrated solution.

3.0  CONCLUSION

  3.1  The approach we have taken on Dartmoor is to seek to empower the farming community so that we use their experience and skills to deliver long-term benefits from the moorland. Whilst we can seek to empower and work in partnership there remains a need to look at the economics of upland farming there remains a need to establish the true costs of management and input to future reform of public support packages and look for other payment methods for so-called ecosystem services/public benefits.

October 2010







1   For a fuller description of the special characteristics and problems facing the South West uplands please refer to the submissions by the South West Uplands Federation and Dartmoor Commoners' Council Back


 
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