National Trust chief vows to work with upland farmers

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Dame Helen Ghosh
Dame Helen Ghosh

The head of the National Trust has pledged to work alongside upland farmers to build a post-Brexit future.

Helen Ghosh, director general of the National Trust, told a conference held in Cumbria that livestock farming would continue to be right at the heart of the charity’s plans for managing upland areas.

She said: “We want to stand alongside our farm tenants in the uplands to look after this most wonderful legacy of landscapes, buildings and farming traditions and be partners with local communities to help them flourish.

Eighty people passionate about the uplands gathered at Newton Rigg College in Penrith, under the banner of Uplands Alliance.

Organised and sponsored by the five northern National Park Authorities, the delegates included hill farmers, conservation organisations and Government agencies, including Defra and Natural England, who gathered to help shape the future of the Northern English Uplands.

They came from Cumbria, the Peak District, Northumberland and the North York moors, as well as the Yorkshire Dales, Nidderdale, the Forest of Bowland and the North and South Pennines.

During the event delegates highlighted ideas and actions they believed would best persuade the public and the Government for continued support as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

Julia Aglionby, chairman of the Uplands Alliance, said there was “substantial common ground” between those who care about, manage and conserve and farm in the uplands.

“It was fantastic to see so much positive energy. We all value the northern uplands for their health, well being and environmental benefits. Going forward, with the appropriate support, we can enhance these while maintaining each area’s distinctive cultural heritage and communities,” said Ms Aglionby.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said he was “delighted” to see the trust emphasising that vibrant and resilient farming and the achievement of outcomes for nature, culture and heritage go hand-in-hand in the countryside and how market failure can limit both.

“As we work towards the development of a post-Brexit agricultural policy suitable for our domestic needs, it is important that we seek to blend together the outcomes for food, farming and the environment,” said Mr Dunn.

He added: “The TFA is also pleased to be working with the trust as it seeks to refresh its relationship with its farm tenants, and puts in place clear estate plans, overseen by its new team of qualified estate managers, which has the achievement of these goals at their heart.”

Robin Milton, Exmoor farmer and chairman of the National Farmers’ Union Hill and Uplands Farming Group, said farmers and profitable livestock farming were at the heart of the upland economy, culture, environment and landscapes.

“I am delighted with the trust’s commitment to work in partnership with farmers to secure the future of upland farming at a time when a united and collaborative voice to Government has never been more important.”

The National Trust has previously outlined its vision for farming support post-Brexit. Last summer, Helen Ghosh said that public money should be used to support farming and land management that helped deliver public goods – sustainably produced food, more wildlife, reduced flooding and improved soils.

Meanwhile, according to a Cumbrian MP almost 50 farmers are still waiting to receive their 2016 farm payment.

The statistics, provided by Farming Minister George Eustice, show that of the 922 eligible farm businesses in the south of the county, 45 have yet to receive their Basic Farm Payment.

The payment window opened at the beginning of December. However, said Tim Farron, many local farmers, particularly those farming common land, were left waiting over a year to receive their payments.

Almost 50 South Lakes farmers are still waiting to receive their 2016 Basic Payment Scheme funding, according to figures given to the Lib Dem leader this week.

Mr Farron said: “I am pleased that many of this year’s payments have been made. However, my concern is that it is the same 50 farmers who were left till the bottom of the heap last time who have been left without cash again this year. It is completely wrong and unacceptable for the Rural Payments Agency to leave common land farmers till last.

“Farmers work long hard hours and face a great deal of uncertainty, the least the Government could do to support them is pay them the cash they are owed on time. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to ensure that all payments, including those related to common land, get paid without delay.”

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