Hill farmers 'must be helped' to maintain character of the moors
Keeping livestock on the Westcountry's moorlands is the key to maintaining their character, according to the National Farmers' Union.
A new report, "Farming Delivers for the Hills and Uplands", highlights how sheep and cattle have for hundreds of years shaped some of the country's most iconic landscapes and communities. It also illustrates how producers continue to provide high-quality beef and lamb from these areas.
Accompanying the report is a policy document detailing the NFU's commitment to the uplands. It outlines key priority areas, such as climate change and relationships with agricultural stakeholders and explains why recognising the value of hill farmers is necessary for a viable and profitable hill and upland sector, that will help shape a wide range of social, economic and cultural activities.
The uplands, including Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor, are dominated by livestock farming. England's 2.2 million hectares of uplands are home to 44% of breeding ewes and 40 per cent of beef cows.
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NFU hill and upland farming group chairman, Robin Milton, said: "There has been a lot of uncertainty facing hill farmers over the past 12 months with a number of contributing factors – such as the weather, rising costs and disease – leading to hill farmers getting less for their produce while facing increasing production costs.
"However, I believe that there is a more prosperous future for hill farming with increasing demand for traceable, quality British produce."
Mr Milton, who farms at West Anstey, on Exmoor, added: "As well as producing food, productive hill farms protect national assets – iconic landscapes, internationally important wildlife habitats and the majority of the nation's carbon storage.
"They also provide the backdrop for the tourism industry. Recognition of farming and the pivotal role farmers play in land management are the first steps in securing sustainable and thriving farmed landscapes across the whole of the country's hills and uplands.
"I believe that we must find better ways to ensure that the full potential of the uplands is realised – to keep providing a full range of environmental, economic and social benefits and solutions for the whole of the nation."
With ongoing negotiations on reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, it was also important to stress that direct payments to farmers were currently a vital lifeline – the only way they could ride out the volatility of world markets, he stressed.
"If these go, many sheep farmers and their families face a very uncertain future," said Mr Milton. "They need respect, as they look after the uplands on a daily basis. It is absolutely vital they are treated fairly and rewarded for their hard work if they are to keep on providing for future generations."