Skip to main content

Livestock on the uplands

A future for farmed uplands

The distinctiveness and future of the South West’s farmed uplands is under discussion following recent research by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy and Research. 

Farmers, rural experts and academics are meeting in Exeter on Friday 29 October to identify opportunities to work towards a positive future and reward hill farmers for maintaining the biodiversity, water supplies, carbon, cultural heritage and unique open environment of the Moors.

The South West Uplands Federation, identify the areas mentioned as part of the nine wonders of the South West uplands. These uplands and their unique assets require management by grazing stock, together with sheep and ponies they have created this distinctive moorland. Without it, scrub develops and as this over grows access to the landscape reduces, views diminish and ancient monuments disappear from sight. In addition, Water is transpired upwards not stored, peat then tries out fragment and is eroded. Professor Ian Mercer, Chair of the South West Uplands Federation said ‘Without farmers and their stock the moorland and its produce is denied to everyone. Today these farms that provide these animals are in trouble. The costs of moorland farming are increasing at a time when the sales of the produce remain as they were 20 years ago and it is becoming increasingly uneconomic any may not continue.’

The recent inquiry into the future of upland communities has shown that the current support for hill farming is inadequate and will therefore be unable to sustain the English uplands, whose landscapes provide a wealth of natural and cultural assets. The Director of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy and Research, Professor Michael Winter was vice-chair of the inquiry carried out by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC).

The inquiry recognised that while farming is essential to maintaining the landscape and managing natural resources, the future sustainability of the upland areas also depends on a thriving business sector. New initiatives are needed to bring together the public and private sectors to create markets for the uplands’ natural resources, like carbon and water, for the benefit of local communities. The report suggests that vibrant, secure upland communities hold the key to realising the potential to generate many valuable public goods and market products, supporting a low carbon future and green economy.

Professor Winter, said 'It has been a long and demanding inquiry as the problems confronting our upland areas are challenging, both intellectually and politically. We have tried to find solutions that join up environmental, social and economic thinking.’

Unlocking that potential requires government to work with local communities and land managers, according to the inquiry. In particular, this means empowering communities, increasing the supply of affordable housing, particularly for young people, and improving access to next generation broadband and mobile communications.

Findings show that current support for hill farming is inadequate to sustain the assets of upland areas. New funding mechanisms are required as part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy from 2013. These would reward farmers for managing national assets in harmony with developing businesses. A new approach is required to balance the needs of the environment whilst maximising the economic potential of the uplands. But supporting farmers is not sufficient on its own: the communities in which they are embedded must also be enabled to thrive if these assets are to be sustained.

The report ‘High ground, high potential – a future for England’s upland communities’ concluded that a new integrated approach to maximising the potential of these unique and diverse natural assets was called for. At present, the inquiry found a lack of joined-up thinking, with too many of the well-intentioned initiatives having unintended negative consequences for communities, farmers and land owners alike. To remedy this, the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) recommended the appointment of a single individual who would be responsible for this new uplands strategy.

Senior staff from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will attend the meeting and join in discussions about how to support hill farming and the public assets which it sustains.

Date: 28 October 2010

Read more University News