Farmers Paul Hunter and Caroline Harrison met Farming Minister Victoria Prentis and Chancellor and local MP Rishi Sunak in the Yorkshire Dales National Park this morning.
Paul and Caroline are two of 18 farmers in Wensleydale and Coverdale who are piloting a ‘payment by results’ agri-environment scheme, in which they get paid for conserving either traditional hay meadows or habitat for wading birds such as curlew.
The scheme is one of 67 Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) ‘tests and trials’ taking place in England. Over the course of the next seven years, ELMs will replace Countryside Stewardship and the Basic Payment scheme.
The meeting took place in a meadow near the village of West Witton. The ministers walked to the site and discussed the principles of payment by results with the farmers and representatives of Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, which are running the pilot scheme in partnership.
Paul Hunter, whose meadows had twice the cover of wildflowers this summer compared with when the scheme started in 2016, said: “The alternative for me to this pilot scheme would have been to plough up the meadows and re-seed with more productive grasses. But this scheme has provided an income and it has given the decision-making back to the farmer.”
Caroline Harrison, who is managing a 30 acre pasture in the wading birds part of the scheme, had a clear message for the ministers: “We need to improve the way money is paid to farmers. The approach in the past has been too prescriptive. We need flexibility and freedom to choose what needs to happen and when. We know when the birds are going to nest – and it can vary each year – and can take out the cattle and sheep at the right time. Set dates are no good. Money helps, too. If there’s no money in it, people are going to leave hill farming.”
Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Neil Heseltine said: “I am delighted the Farming Minister and the Chancellor took the time to speak to farmers in the National Park. These hill farmers maintain the landscape that we all love. It cannot be stressed enough that they will need ELMs to make their farm businesses viable. I know that the ministers will have been impressed by how quickly the hay meadows and habitat for breeding waders in the scheme have been restored and enhanced.
“Mr Sunak was very taken with the phrase ‘nature friendly farming’. That is the sort of farming we would like the Government to support here, with livestock being bred and reared in the hills in a way which conserves and enhances wildlife.”
Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: “Yorkshire has a fantastic community of farmers, who are not only highly resilient but also working hard to test out how our upcoming Environmental Land Management scheme can be as effective as possible in rewarding our farmers for enhancing the natural environment.
“I look forward to working closely with more farmers, land managers and environmentalists like those I have met today from all over the country to design a scheme that will benefit the wide variety of farming systems we have in England today.”
Working with farmers to demonstrate the benefit of ‘high nature value’, low-input farm systems through a 5-year trial of a ‘payment by results’ approach to agri-environment funding is objective C4 of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan 2019-2024.