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

Written evidence submitted by Rural Development Agencies Rural Affairs Network

  1.  Firstly on behalf of the Rural Affairs Network for Regional Development Agencies can I thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond to your inquiry into England's upland communities—"High Ground, high potential".

  2.  Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) have made strategic investments in sectors of national importance which are either key to the economic growth and development of the region or are of recognised area priority. RDAs have always been supportive of integrated strategies that bring benefits to those working, living and learning in areas of need like the uplands. However we would want to see that where possible local agendas are taken into consideration as due to the restructuring of government and regions there will not be the medium through which a national integrated strategy could be delivered. Therefore it is not the concept of integration that is the challenge here, but that of deliverability.

  3.  Please note that this response has included information from those RDAs whose geography includes upland areas.

  4.  We would be happy to give further examples if requested of how RDAs like emda, the North West and West Midlands have worked hard to engage with the uplands and to remove some of the barriers mentioned in the CRC report.

  5.  Strengthening leadership and momentum: Crisis and need creates leadership and momentum and the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak showed that there was indeed latent strength in leadership and momentum within upland communities and that this could be brought together to form effective partnerships that work together for common interests. However outside of normal trade associations, it took a crisis to make this happen and there is little evidence that that leadership or momentum remains in place. A key role of organisations such as GO and the RDA's have been to provide the means through which partnerships can continue to work towards common interests. The prospect of significant funding for a wide range of activity that impacted positively on upland communities was a major factor in holding the focus of partnerships. Going forward therefore there needs to be an equally strong basis for partnerships to work together and for leaders to emerge.

  6.  emda have seen high numbers of applications from dairy farmers looking for funding through RDPE livestock monies. Some upland farms have also been supported through emda's (single programme funded) Live and Work Rural programme in the Peak District which has been designed to support businesses that use the high quality environment as an economic driver. Many of these projects have addressed climate change and business sustainability. Through emda's RDPE skills programme a call for activity for projects specifically within the Upland area was made, and has resulted in emda supporting projects in sheep shearing, animal health and welfare as well as others. Recent statistics show that 230 businesses like Derbyshire farmers have already been able to participate in training.

  7.  Through delivery of RDPE in England empowering communities in the uplands has taken place in a number of areas and in particular the North East where One North East has been supportive of young people from farming backgrounds to start their own businesses within their communities. Great community empowerment is on the whole a positive step within Upland Communities. The Northwest has some great examples of communities working to improve their socio-economic and environmental circumstances. The Upper Eden is currently being held up as a pilot/exemplar for the Big Society agenda.

  8.  The cross Regional Development Agencies Rural Affairs Network recently commissioned a paper into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post 2013, whilst this is yet to be finalised this inquiry has given us the opportunity to highlight the key headlines to emerge from this research and hopefully promote a new approach to funding (a better targeted CAP), the RDA recommendations are that CAP needs to be:

    8.1 Market led—CAP should support market led development.

    8.2 Knowledge led—CAP should promote R&D and skills led change to increase productivity.

    8.3 Economic Contribution—CAP should help to develop by supporting competitiveness and employment growth, exports and global markets.

    8.4 Green Economy—CAP should support environmental markets in renewable materials and energy by improving resource efficiency.

    8.5 Risk Management—CAP should promote effective risk management by promoting use of risk management tools.

  9.  Developing markets for carbon and water: This is a fundamental part of balancing future CAP input to rural areas and the ability for rural areas to capture the inherent value of the upland landscape. A key issue here is that it should not be assumed that the market for carbon and water should be driven by public sector investment such as CAP. CAP should be used to frame up the ability of rural business to develop sustainable markets.

  10.  To reflect the contribution of upland communities to public benefits, Defra should ensure that the menu of measures under axes 3 and 4 should be broadened to enhance investment in and support for social sustainability of communities in upland areas.

  11.  Delivery bodies with less Favoured Areas within their jurisdiction should review the extent to which RDPE funding is sufficiently accessible to upland farms and rural businesses [especially those relating to enterprise investment and rural business support].

    11.1 Securing the future for hill farmers some RDAs believe that current funding mechanisms may not unlock the potential of the uplands and as part of the CAP reform in 2013 and 2020, Defra and its agencies [and the EU] should develop a new approach to rewarding farmers for managing national assets in harmony with developing businesses and market enterprises. In an innovative move to help sustain the future of farming, Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS) has announced that it has been offered £170,000 from LandSkills North East to fund its Farmers of the Future trainee scheme. Initially six to eight trainees will learn the diverse skills needed for upland farming in an effort to encourage more young people into agriculture. The scheme has already attracted considerable interest among local farmers and the selection of 12 host farms is now underway. The project was funded by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) through the LandSkills North East programme.

  12.  RDPE funding should be used to develop a series of commercial demonstration farms to promote good practice across a range of disciplines including implementation of agri-environment schemes, soil and livestock management, alternative forage crops, stocking rates and grazing management regimes.

  13.  Encouraging enterprise in new green growth areas where existing upland businesses, upland communities more broadly and "outside" business interests can work together. It is a key element of delivering true "Big Society" where broader benefits are delivered on a commercial platform that allows return on investment to be a key component of productive partnership working. Over a five year period more than £206,000,000 has been invested to deliver enterprise in green growth areas to deliver sustainable consumption and production agenda, and in 2008 more than £70,000 was offered to farms and forestry businesses in the North East of England in the opening phase of a project to build biomass supply chains. It should not be assumed that this should be driven by public sector investment.

  14.  Improving broadband and mobile telephone communications, RDPE funding has enabled rural areas in many areas and an example of this in the uplands Teesdale has access to reliable, high speed broadband to increase business competitiveness. The Digital Dale project,. One North East's RDPE has approved £300,000 for the project with work being carried out by Networks By Wireless,. RDAs recognise the importance of broadband as the "fourth utility" alongside water, electricity and gas. However, due to low population and geographical remoteness in rural areas public sector intervention is essential.

  15.  Planning to enable sustainable upland communities: Effective planning that allows community led identification of priorities and subsequent local-agreement on sustainable solutions is required if our upland communities are to become more than just a pastiche of rural life—a potential scenario that could be generated without a clear understanding of what opportunities are offered by a vibrant rural community. Planning requires local input and an understanding of a living landscape. Largely protected as AONB or National Park, our upland landscapes are afforded a degree of positive sustainable input however the balance of power in that decision making process needs to shift to those impacted directly by policy—upland communities.

  16.  To reiterate that this response has included information from those RDAs whose geography includes upland areas. RDAs have over the past 10 years given much support to the uplands and if more information is required, please do not hesitate to get in contact.

October 2010

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