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

Written evidence submitted by the South West Uplands Federation

  South West Uplands Federation (SWUF) is a farmer led initiative representing hill farmers from Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor. Our members are passionate about the uplands and wish to see their management of these national asserts continue.


  1.  The uplands of South West England provide an impressive array of public goods or eco-system services. These assets are largely under threat from insufficient land management which is a result of the Single Payment Scheme removing the incentive to farm the moorland. Increasingly, in an attempt to remain financially viable, hill farmers are concentrating on improving the farming income from their enclosed land to the determent of the open moorland where most of these public goods and services are found.

  The solution to this issue requires changes to policy and delivery that recognise the differences in farming techniques commensurate with different parts of the English uplands. It will also require the appropriate reward for managing public assets and this reward includes offering the farmers the opportunity to participate in securing a long term future for our uplands.


  2.  SWUF welcomed the CRC Upland Inquiry and is grateful for a further opportunity to comment on the issues facing farmers in the uplands and to respond to the recommendations in the CRC's report. We will address selected recommendations.

  3.  Recommendation 4: A new approach to funding. Public support for hill farming is essential and currently accounts for 40% of the Farm Business Income of a typical SW hill farm. Following the introduction of the Single Payment Scheme that support has fallen by 40% to 70%. Agri-environment schemes (ESA, CSS and ES) are part of that public support and remain essential to moorland farmers but can not replace (and were not designed to replace) the support provided prior to the SPS. Over 80% of the farmers on Bodmin Moor, Exmoor and Dartmoor had agreements in 2006. Without agri-environment payments there would be even fewer livestock on the hills.

  4.  Hill farmers are not disappearing. However there is a real change to the focus of their farming. Encouraged to provide cattle that finish earlier many have changed the breed of cattle away from those suitable for extensive moorland grazing. The impact of bTB has also encouraged smaller herds. Stock numbers continue to fall. Between 2004 and 2007 breeding cow numbers fell by nearly 60% on Exmoor and over 40% on Dartmoor. We believe this trend will continue unless there are more incentives to manage the moorland.

  5.  SWUF supports recommendations 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3. CAP reform does provide an opportunity to readjust the balance between those farming where a range of eco-system services can be secured and where farmers are unable to provide multiple public benefits. This opportunity must be taken if these national assets are to be maintained.

  6.  SWUF would wish to offer a word of caution relating to Recommendation 4.4. Whilst we support the principle of making RDPE funding more available to upland farms there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that those successful in securing financial support to diversify or to participate in local marketing initiatives often then abandon or reduce their moorland grazing.

  7.  Recommendation 5. Currently 90% of the water going to households in Devon and Cornwall originates in the South West uplands. The water is of high quality and this is in part a result of past and present farming practice. As stock numbers fall the risk of fire increases and the vegetation's sward changes. Farmers and land owners should be able to benefit from providing appropriate land management essential to retain this resource. A similar picture is emerging regarding carbon. The latest research confirms the presence of over 80 million tonnes of stored carbon on Dartmoor alone and that fire is the greatest threat. Incidentally should trees become established on the peat soils this would also release carbon and damage the most efficient form of carbon sequestration.

  8.  We support Recommendation 6.2. The uplands of South-west England are distinctive. The farming practise reflects the lower elevation and milder climate; cattle breeding dominates with sheep and ponies also an integral part of the farming system. Attempts to impose grazing regimes, designed for the northern hills, have reduced stock numbers to an unsustainable level and damaged those unique farming techniques.

  9.  Without grazing the vegetation on the uplands will change. The impact of climate change, milder winters and drier summers, will exasperate these changes. This will increase the risk of wild fires leading to immense damage to property, biodiversity, public access and to the water that eventually goes to 1.9 million homes. Such a fire would also release enormous amounts of carbon from the peat soils and damage the ability of the peat bogs to sequestrate carbon.

  10.  Providing sufficient incentive to secure the long term management of the moorland is essential. There is clearly insufficient financial reward for providing suitable stock (numbers and breed). There is also, and of equal significance, the issue of the experience and skills held by the farmers. These too are in decline. All too often inappropriate grazing regimes are imposed that undermine the farmers' experience. After so long they begin to feel isolated from farming decisions leading to disillusionment with the honourable intention to see the moors well managed. Farmers want to be part of the solution. This is one of the reasons SWUF supports Dartmoor Farming Futures; an initiative originating from Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Dartmoor Commoners' Council. This initiative is predicated on encouraging commoners (all hill farmers) to take responsibility for and contribute more to an agri-environment scheme and so ensure it is fit for purpose whilst reflecting local conditions.

  11.  The references referred to in this short note are:

    1. Hill Farm Survey 2006-07, report to SWUF. Land Use Consultants, 2007.

    2. Hill Farming Systems in South West England: Economic viability and the delivery of public goods. University of Exeter, Duchy College and Cumulus Consultants, 2008.

    3. Update on 2 by CRPR, University of Exeter, 2010 in press.

October 2010

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