Upland farmers take the high road out

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The Independent Online
The long-term future of thousands of traditional family upland farms in some of country's most scenic and wild areas could be at risk unless the Government steps in to help, farmers claimed yesterday.

Increasingly modest financial rewards has meant that vast numbers of young people are quitting the family business to find more prosperous work in towns and cities and there are few people willing to take their place.

Yesterday the National Farmers' Union sent a tough warning to the Government that, unless action is taken, vast sections of the farming industry could be destroyed and large areas of the countryside reduced to a barren wilderness.

A survey carried out by the union showed that 43 per cent of hill farmers' children would not be taking over the farm when their parents retired. Most cited low annual income levels as the main reason.

The NFU's president, Sir David Naish, said: "With no natural successor, the UK's upland communities face a bleak and bitter future.

"Areas such as the Lake District, Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons, are an invaluable environmental asset for the nation, with much of their character a direct result of farming activities over many centuries. Without profitable hill farming this will be lost for future generations."

Upland farms in what are known as the Less Favoured Areas account for more than half of the total UK agricultural area and employ more than 170,000 farmers and workers. Two-thirds of the UK's specialist beef herd and breeding ewes are found in these areas and they produce more than a quarter of the nation's milk.

Yet the 1996 Farm Business Survey carried out annually showed that 42 per cent of cattle and sheep farms in Less Favoured Areas had net farm incomes of less than pounds 10,000. This, coupled with harsh working conditions and reduced market prices in livestock, means that hill farming is no longer an attractive proposition for many.

Sir David said: "Farmers in the hills and uplands have to overcome many disadvantages including the weather, soil quality and remoteness. This is compounded by the fact that the current outlook for farm incomes on UK livestock farms as a whole is bleaker than it has been for years."

Farmers are now calling on the Government to increase the Livestock Compensatory Allowances, an additional payment made to hill farmers over and above the European funding.