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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Cumbrian conference focuses on efforts to safeguard upland farming

Major efforts are being made to safeguard the future of upland farming, a conference in Cumbria was told.

Leading figures from the agricultural industry came together at the national event which took place at Newton Rigg College, near Penrith.

It was held to discuss the issues and challenges facing the country’s uplands and featured a speech from National Trust director general Dame Helen Ghosh.

She told delegates how the trust owns 250 hectares of land – 60 per cent of which is upland – with the majority run by tenant farmers.

Dame Ghosh then went on to describe the major challenges threatening the future of uplands across the country.

“Nature is suffering – 60 per cent of species, many of which are regarded as common, are in decline,” she said. “And 70 per cent of eco-systems are in a declining condition and this is largely being driven by industrialised farming.”

She also spoke of the effects of climate change, the threats to the countryside posed by large development, and the public becoming more and more detached from the natural environment.

All of this is being compounded by concerns over funding to help hill farmers, Dame Ghosh added.

The conference came amid a current consultation on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments and its potential impact on the way upland farms, moorland and forestry are managed.

Concerns also remain about how to best secure the financial future of those who live and work in the uplands after a cash crisis affecting farmers has forced many to give up. Others say they’re struggling to survive.

Dame Ghosh said the trust would continue working with the Government to secure the best deal for farmers.

She also told how the organisation has adopted a “joined-up” approach to sustainable farming and land management.

“We won’t stop management completely but will give nature more space to take its own course,” she said.

Dame Ghosh also explained how the trust is looking at harnessing its own renewable energy, including hydro energy, and stressed the importance of making sure the “next generation shares the desire for a healthy, rich landscape”.

Other key speakers during the event included Mike Rowe, deputy director of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Richard Ali, chief executive of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Dr Gareth Clay, a lecturer in physical geography at the University of Manchester, and local hill farmer Neil Heseltine.

Entitled ‘Future Upland Management: Balancing environmental, social and economic demands’, the conference was organised by the National Centre for the Uplands, based at Newton Rigg.

The college is the only one in the UK to have its own upland farm, grouse moor, and to run a specialist degree course in uplands agriculture with land management.

Principal Wes Johnson said the list of speakers represented a wide range of stakeholders within the uplands and the high-profile delegates who attended on Tuesday and Wednesday demonstrated a “mix of key players and decision-makers” within the industry.

He said: “The key thrust for us is skill, education and demonstration because we educate the next generation of land managers for the uplands.

“We wanted to facilitate an honest and open debate to bring the different parties together and help policy makers go forward.”

Head of agriculture Matt Bagley praised the hard work and preparation that went into making the conference a huge success.

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