Farming in the Uplands

The key recommendation from the Efra Select Committee’s inquiry into Farming in the Uplands (HC 556) is the urgent need to develop a strategy for the uplands to identify the key actions needed to ensure the continuation of farming in upland areas of England.

The Efra Committee inquiry into Farming in the Uplands began 16 September 2010 and the final report was published 16 February 2011.

The inquiry sought to ‘identify and evaluate the drivers of change in upland communities, and to develop policy recommendations to enable and equip them to move towards more secure, economically prosperous and sustainable futures’.

Evidence from 25 organisations (such as the Tenant Farmers Association, National Farmers Union, Country Land and Business Association, and English National Park Authorities Association) informed the Committee’s recommendations.

It is suggested that the development of an uplands strategy, in the form of an ‘Upland Action Plan’, would allow policy objectives for upland areas to be integrated, outlined clearly and provide an opportunity to articulate how each objective will be met, with what resources and within what timeframe. The Committee highlights the need for a statutory definition of what is meant by the ‘uplands’ within a UK or England context and suggests that a Natural Environment Bill (potentially to emerge from the Natural Environment White Paper) would offer the legislative possibility to do this.

At a European level, the Committee emphasises that CAP reform must reconsider the way in which current financial incentives provided for farmers to maintain or adopt environmentally beneficial management practices under agri-environment schemes are calculated. For farms on less productive land, they do not provide sufficient compensation currently as the calculations based are based on ‘income foregone’ and additional costs and do not take into account the fixed costs of running a farm.

The report stresses the importance of upland farmers in the provision of public goods and urges this role to be exploited to its full potential. For example, carbon markets should target upland farmers to incorporate the restoration of peatlands in their long-term goals. They should also be targeted to support the development of water markets to promote water sequestration and subsequently reduce flood risk. Improved access to agri-environment and diversification schemes combined with training will be key to achieving these goals. The report also suggests that tourism opportunities, particularly within national parks could be exploited to a much greater extent and that issues surrounding the introduction of superfast broadband and affordable house must be addressed in these areas.

The Efra Committee notes its concerns that the abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities will narrow the Government’s understanding and limit their expertise in this area. To avoid any serious repercussions, it is recommended that an advisory panel is established and that the research carried out by the Commission for Rural Communities is continued so that policy is effectively ‘rural proofed’.

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07 Mar 2011