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


Written evidence submitted by Countryside Alliance

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1.  The uplands are treasured and unique areas that provide multiple benefits to society. However the future of these communities is insecure. Hill farming alone cannot provide a sustainable future for the uplands.

  2.  Shooting, particularly driven grouse, makes an economic, social and environmental contribution to many of England's uplands, and we believe it deserves more recognition and promotion as an activity that can play a significant role in the prosperity of upland communities and conservation in England.

  3.  It is in this context that we were disappointed with the Commission for Rural Communities report, which failed to give adequate recognition to shooting, especially given that the aim of the report was to identify and evaluate the drivers for change in upland communities, and to develop policy recommendations to enable and equip them to move towards more secure, economically prosperous and sustainable future.

THE ISSUES FACING FARMERS IN THE UPLANDS

  4.  For at least 150 years, the British uplands have been dominated by the three main land-use practices of sheep farming, forestry and game management that have led to the characteristic landscapes so treasured today. We need to ensure upland communities survive and thrive because without people and the right policies the condition of the uplands is likely to be progressively degraded.

  5.  The Alliance recognises that hill farming is central to the existence of many upland communities and believes it requires adequate support to remain a feature of the English uplands. Sheep farming provides an income stream for rural communities, and at the right stocking densities, grazing on moorland plays a key role in maintaining the right balance of plant and grass communities which support a variety of internationally important bird species.

  6.  Farming alone can't be the only future in the uplands but it is an essential element in managing moorland vegetation and habitat. The continuing policy shift away from encouraging intensive agricultural production towards environmental protection means that income derived from Government subsidies to support hill farming is likely to decrease. As a result of such policy, stocking levels have decreased in the English uplands but the cost of sheep farming remains the same and in some cases new European legislation, such as the requirement to electronically tag sheep, places an extra cost burden on the hill farmer. Such factors call into question the financial sustainability of hill farming in England. Whilst it is outside the Alliance's remit to suggest what specific support should be available to the sector, we believe it would be easier to manage future change by maintaining appropriate livestock systems in the short term, which will help maintain the landscapes so treasured in the uplands rather than incur the costs of having to reintroduce them at a later date.

THE FARMING COMMUNITIES' RESPONSE TO THE CRC'S RECOMMENDATIONS OUTLINED IN THEIR REPORT "HIGH GROUND, HIGH POTENTIAL"

  7.  The Alliance's submission to the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) concentrated on the economic, social and environmental contribution that shooting, particularly driven grouse shooting, makes to many of England's uplands, and why it deserves more recognition and promotion as an activity that can play a significant role in the prosperity of upland communities. Unlike hill farming, driven grouse shooting is capable of generating income that is not subsidised by the Government. It provides the economic engine to pay for conservation management, so vital in keeping the moorlands a tourist magnet for upland areas, as well as providing local employment opportunities which help economies in fragile communities during the typically quieter winter months.

  8.  In the light of the importance of shooting to the Uplands, we were disappointed the CRC's report "High Ground, High Potential—A Future for England's Upland Communities", failed to give adequate recognition to shooting, given that the aim of the report was to identify and evaluate the drivers for change in upland communities, and to develop policy recommendations to enable and equip them to move towards more secure, economically prosperous and sustainable future. Although 16% of upland is managed as grouse moor, and the positive synergies between moorland managed for grouse shooting and environmental goals and ecosystem service provision is briefly acknowledged, the total reference to grouse shooting and its associated moorland management equates to just one page of the 117 page report. This is despite repeated assurances during the course of the Inquiry that the final report would reflect the important role that these have to play in our uplands, as well as having received sufficient evidence with which to do so. The report even goes so far as to state that knowledge about land use in the uplands is partial, and still being gathered, even in relation to key areas including moorland management. In making such a statement, it would appear that the Inquiry has failed to fully achieve its aim.

  9.  The report rightly concludes that the nation should be considering our uplands as areas of great public benefit and environmental value, and makes some welcome, if not unexpected, recommendations. Amongst these are the importance of having a national strategy that should be informed by local knowledge and experience, and the need for upland communities to have a much more direct impact into decisions that impact on their lives and businesses. It is therefore unfortunate that there are areas such as shooting where the CRC would appear to have failed to meet its own recommendations.

  10.  The Inquiry has undoubtedly provided people with a good opportunity to have their say on the issues and challenges facing their upland communities, and it is hoped that these will now be addressed; and not before time. However, none of these should have come as a great surprise, and given what must have been a considerable cost to conduct the inquiry, the usefulness of the report has to be questioned.

October 2010





 
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