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

Written evidence submitted by the Campaign for National Parks

  1.  Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence and views to your inquiry into Farming in the Uplands. The Campaign for National Parks (CNP) is the national charity that campaigns to protect and promote National Parks for the benefit and quiet enjoyment of all.

  2.  CNP is very interested in farming in the uplands because of the strong connection between upland farming and the cultural and natural landscapes found in our National Parks. Of the 10 National Parks in England, seven are in the uplands. The stunning and diverse beauty of these landscapes is in no small part due to the hard work of hill farmers and their farming systems over many hundreds of years.

  3.  The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) report "High Ground: High Potential—A future for England's upland communities" is a very timely contribution to the debate on the future of the uplands and their communities. There are significant drivers of change that have an impact on our upland environment and people—from climate change, changes in demography and technology, and of course economic and political change. There is a pressing need to ensure that upland farmers are well-equipped to respond positively to these drivers, so that the role they have in providing a range of valued benefits for society can continue to grow.

  4.  Economic sustainability is one of the most important issues facing upland farmers. Today, the income of most upland farmers is made up of a combination of market returns, on—and off-farm diversification activities, and public support from the CAP's Single Payment Scheme and agri-environment payments. It is likely that the overall budget of the CAP will decline, from 2013, as will the ability of the UK Government to co-finance agri-environment schemes. To stay in business many farmers will need to seek alternative sources of income. Public funding will also need to be targeted more tightly to farming activities that provide genuine public benefit.

  5.  CNP agrees with the CRC report that the uplands, and upland National Parks in particular, should be seen as areas of considerable potential and opportunity for their farming communities. The "new agenda" in the uplands is one that recognises the very wide range of essential benefits and services the uplands provide for society: natural resources like clean water, food, timber and energy; carbon storage to help to mitigate climate change; inspiring places to escape to from busy city lives; and natural systems that can help to buffer the impacts of extreme weather events such as floods and fires.

  6.  There are some excellent examples from National Parks where farmers have already adopted this new agenda, and are working to deliver a suite of other benefits alongside food production, and being paid to do so. For example, the SCAMP project in the Lake District is using a mix of funding sources—secured from the water company, agri-environment and woodland grant schemes—to support farmers to graze sustainably, create new native woodland and restore their blanket bogs. This innovative funding has been approved by Ofwat, because it will reduce the costs of water treatment for customers, while at the same time improving carbon storage and wildlife habitats—a real win-win.

  7.  Such examples however are all too infrequent. Government policies and funding support need to make it easier for upland farmers to take part in such innovative arrangements and provide a wider range of benefits. Some farmers may need to change aspects of their farm system and management techniques, and forge new partnerships with neighbouring farms and businesses, to secure landscape-wide benefits and the payments for delivering them. Government policies, and the agencies that deliver them, need to support farmers in embracing the new agenda in the uplands, and avoid policies such as those that in the past focussed on supporting one benefit (eg livestock production) often at the expense of others (eg wildlife and clean water).

  8.  National Parks can demonstrate how such integrating policies could work. The CRC report calls for an approach to the uplands and their communities that recognises distinctiveness of place; that uses locally informed knowledge and expertise; and that is focussed on investing in the potential offered by these places. It recommends a new integrated strategy for the uplands. National Park Management Plans are an excellent vehicle through which such an "integrated strategy" can be achieved for a distinctive cultural and natural landscape. The Lake District's new five year management plan has been developed in partnership with a very wide range of organisations, businesses and local communities. It is a model for how this approach could work in other places and should be encouraged and supported. This would be compatible with the Government's policy that the Authorities should ensure they are exemplars in achieving sustainable development (paragraph 28, 2010 National Parks Circular).

  9.  CNP therefore agrees with CRC's recommendation that the role and value of the National Park Authorities should be increased, because they already strive for the integrated approach called for in the report. However, we do not believe that it is necessary to alter the statutory purposes of the National Park Authorities to achieve this. National Parks are already required to undertake their twin purposes (of conservation and public enjoyment) in a way that fosters the social and economic well-being of local communities. We have no evidence to suggest that a new statutory purpose on social and economic well-being is necessary. We note that paragraph 11 of the 2010 National Parks Circular states that "the statutory purposes and duty of the Authorities remain relevant".

  10.  CNP is extremely concerned about the impact that the Government's proposed spending cuts will have on National Park Authorities. Significant cuts could reduce, rather than increase, the ability of National Park Authorities to undertake meaningful engagement with local communities, including hill farmers.

  11.  Summary of key points. We recommend that the Committee includes in its report:

    — A call for improved support for upland farmers that is focussed on helping them to embrace the "new agenda" in the uplands, and access payments for delivering a wider range of ecosystem services.

    — A proposal to develop the National Parks and National Park Authorities as test beds for new approaches to integrating environment, economy and community.

    — Advice that the role and value of National Park Authorities can be increased without amending their statutory purposes.

    — An expression of concern about the impact that funding cuts could have on the ability of National Park Authorities to undertake meaningful engagement with communities at all levels, including hill farmers.

October 2010

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