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

Written evidence submitted by Exmoor National Park Authority


  Exmoor National Park Authority is seeking a future where farming on Exmoor is profitable with a greater recognition of the central role of farming in environmental management. Specifically, the National Park Authority would like to see:

    1. Increased and secure payment rates for upland farms through the Single Payment Scheme

    2. Flexible Environmental Stewardship schemes that are locally managed and can be tailored to local circumstances.

    3. New "market-based" mechanisms that reward farmers for the public benefits they provide.


  1.  The Exmoor landscape that is so valued today has been created and maintained by grazing animals—particularly cattle and sheep—managed primarily for food production. While geology and geography have determined the essential landform of Exmoor—its climate, hills, valleys, rivers and streams and coastal features—it is agriculture that has had the major influence on the mosaic of vegetation cover, the wildlife it supports and the pattern and character of Exmoor's farmsteads, hamlets, villages and towns.


  2.  The relatively harsh climate has favoured livestock farming and, historically, Exmoor farming has been based on raising store lambs, suckled calves and store cattle that are sold on for fattening to lowland farms.

  3.  Exmoor farms provided direct employment for 1,374 people, of whom only 38% were full-time. The level of farm-based employment has declined significantly over the past 30 years. In the financial year ending 2005, the Net Farm Income for Exmoor farms was £5.27 million. In the same year, total subsidy payments (excluding agri-environmental payments) amounted to £8.05 million. In other words, public funding accounted for 153% of Net Farm Income and in its absence Exmoor farming would have been in deficit by some £2.78 million.

  4.  There is real concern about the changes that are quietly taking place, the continuing number of active farmers giving up; the continuing livestock health problem due to tick-borne diseases, and, significantly, the stress, hassle and cost to farmers from bovine TB.


  5.  The Single Farm Payment is leading to a net reduction in farm funding support for Exmoor. The relatively high productivity of Exmoor compared to uplands in the north of England means that farm payments based on a uniform, area-based funding rate across the whole of the England upland "region", are lower on Exmoor than previous production-based subsidies.

  6.  The higher payment rates available in the lowlands reinforces the disadvantage experienced by upland farmers in achieving viable farms in regions already defined as SDA (Severely Disadvantaged Areas). Higher rates of payment for SDA upland/moorland areas must be at a level that will sustain traditional livestock farming. [CRC recommendation 4.1]

    Recommendation 1—The National Park Authority would like to see increased and secure payment rates for upland farms through the Single Payment Scheme.


  7.  Since 1984, Exmoor has been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and a large majority of Exmoor farms joined the scheme. The move to Environmental Stewardship (ES) has benefited those farms that have higher quality environmental assets and are able to enter into Higher Level Stewardship. However, it is likely to mean significantly less agri-environment support for farms that do not contain such assets. This could lead to some farmers leaving agri-environment schemes altogether, putting the management of environmental assets at risk and resulting in a loss of many of the gains achieved through the ESA scheme.

  8.  The ESA scheme also contained some provisions that are not now available in ES, including the potential for capital payments for the management of important landscape features such as the characteristic Exmoor beech hedges on high banks. At its peak, over £1 million was available for hedge management each year. As well as an important contribution to landscape management, this funding provided a vital income stream to local contractors skilled in traditional hedgerow management and there is a high level of concern that the loss of capital payments will lead to a loss of local employment and traditional skills.

  9.  Whilst there have been many environmental benefits from nearly 20 years of national environmental schemes there is increasing concern on Exmoor about the changing character of much of the moor and heathland habitats in the National Park.

  10.  Until recently, the moor and heath areas played an important role in the farming cycle as ewes with lambs were grazed on the moor following lambing in early spring and cattle grazed at various times over the year including winter grazing for dry cows. Swaling (the management of moorland through controlled burning) has also formed an important part of the management of moorland areas.

  11.  The difficulties of integrating some of the requirements of agri-environment prescriptions with practical farming is meaning that many fewer farmers are willing to put stock out to graze on moor and heath areas. Similarly, the requirements of burning regimes for increased use of equipment and scarce labour and the fear of adverse consequences if burns accidentally get out of control, means that farmers are increasingly reluctant to carry out this mode of vegetation management.

  12.  As a consequence, the resulting "under-grazing" and declining vegetation management has contributed to the spread of gorse and bracken, replacing heather and all other vegetation. As the moor and heath areas have "scrubbed up" bird species more typical of scrub have benefitted but negative impacts such as changing landscape character, more difficult access and increased fire risk are of considerable concern.

    Recommendation 2—The National Park Authority would like to see a more flexible Environmental Stewardship schemes that are locally managed and can be tailored to local circumstances to maximise the benefits for biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage. [CRC recommendation 4.1; 4.2; 6.1; 6.2]


  13.  More than 80% of the land area of the National Park is farmed and farmers make the largest and most important contribution to environmental management on Exmoor. As well as producing high quality food, farming on Exmoor carries out and supports:

    — The maintenance of one of England's finest landscapes.

    — Public access to over 19,000 hectares of moor and heath significant for its wildness and tranquillity and 1,000 kilometres of public rights of way.

    — Care of historically important sites and buildings going back to the Mesolithic.

    — Provision of drinking water to much of Somerset and Devon.

    — Management of priority biodiversity habitats and species.

    — Maintenance of peat soils that store in excess of three million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

    — A destination for two million visitors and a direct contribution to the wider tourism economy of more than £200 million each year.

  14.  Pilot schemes on Exmoor have included a significant financial investment by South West Water (SWW) in peatland restoration. SWW has established that an approach that provides revenue income to farmers and land managers to maintain clean water and reduce water treatment costs can be justified on sound commercial, cost: benefit analysis. In addition, Natural England is working with the National Park Authority and others to explore mechanisms for better rewarding farmers and land managers for the provision of so-called "ecosystems services". [CRC recommendation 5.1; 5.2; 5.3].

    Recommendation 3—The National Park Authority would like to see the development of "market-based" mechanisms that reward farmers for the public benefits they provide.

October 2010

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