Ten neighbouring Dales farmers or landowners have participated in a year-long ‘test’ carried out by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The farmers, from Raydaleside, have met several times to discuss ways they could collaborate and what would incentivise them to do so.
The findings will help to inform the design of Defra’s forthcoming ‘Local Nature Recovery’ and ‘Landscape Recovery’, which are two of the three components of environment land management schemes.
These schemes will replace existing farm payment schemes in England by 2027.
Jane le Cocq, Farm Conservation Adviser at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “Farmers are used to helping their neighbours with jobs, but it’s a big step to go from that to working collaboratively on a large scale environment scheme. What we’ve been doing is listening to farmers from one small dale and exploring the ways they could work together across their holdings. The aim is to help Defra make sure that the new environment land management schemes, when introduced, will work in practice for upland farmers.”
One of the participating farmers was Andrew Sowerby, from Carr End Farm, one of the three remaining dairy farms in the dale. He said he took part because he knew that for the sake of the farm business, he needed to engage with the Government’s agricultural transition plan.
“At the end of the day I went to the meetings because we need to know where the next source of funding is coming from, after the Basic Payment goes. I need to find out what we can do to keep going,” he said.
“Collaboration with other farmers is difficult. We are in competition and not all neighbours get along. But the mapping that was shared with us was quite good. We could see different fields and it could tell you everything about what you could get on that field.”
Potential collaborative ideas generated through the meetings have included carrying out ‘farm carbon audits’; tree planting using guards made from wool; and surveys of non-native invasive species and heritage features.
One of the main objectives of the test was to develop an online interactive map to help farmers see the different types of habitats they had on their holdings and how those habitats could provide an income from the new schemes whilst still producing good quality local food.
Member Champion for the Natural Environment at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Ian McPherson, said: “We know that there are real challenges for farmers to collaborate in this way – particularly when many are already working very long hours. But working together on nature recovery schemes is the way farmers in the National Park could earn good money in the near future. From what we’ve been led to expect, places such as Raydaleside could be strong contenders for Local Nature Recovery or Landscape Recovery payments, as there are significant environmental gains to be had there. Many people know the dale because of Semerwater but perhaps few people will know that the lake has been in a poor condition for many years. By all making some changes to the way their land is farmed, farmers could restore it to good health, boost nature and create more resilient farm businesses that will be here for years to come.
“The one-year test has enabled Dales farmers’ views to be fed directly in to Defra as it finalises the design of the new schemes. It has also put those farmers in a strong position to put together an application to one of the two new schemes if they want. From what we’ve learned, it looks like having a local ‘convenor’ who understands the issues, pressures and needs of the farmers and landowners will be crucial to helping farmers put together these sort of ‘landscape-scale’ proposals.”
Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: “Our new schemes are all about supporting the choices that individual farmers take for their holdings. That is why we are designing them in partnership with farmers, and I am grateful to all of those in the Yorkshire Dales who have played a part in this.
“The steps we are taking will encourage a more sustainable model of agriculture, and help improve the resilience and profitability of farm businesses.”
Many of the farmers have already expressed a wish to participate in the latest Defra test which is being run in partnership between the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Palladium, as part of the Revere initiative. This test will look at how private finance could be used to supplement funding provided through the environmental land management schemes, and how that can work for tenant farmers as well as landowners. A formal report on the Raydaleside test will be submitted to Defra’s Test and Trials team by the end of this month.
**This news release was updated on 29 March