Moratorium on agri-environment stocking reductions is needed

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We wholeheartedly agree with the NSA who are calling for a moratorium on agri-environment stocking reductions

We have let the NSA know that farmers in Cumbria are being offered new Countryside Stewardship Agreements that may be open to negotiation but are proposing significant stocking reductions.

This seems to conflict with agreements in other areas where some farmers are being allowed to roll existing agreements forward. NSA believes the intention should be to ensure continuity until new ELMS schemes become available in coming years. 

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “We are in a period of huge change and will see new ELM schemes over the coming decade. The purpose here should be to tide us over until these new schemes are available, continuing the good work that farmers are doing and ensuring sustainable income for farmers in return.

“I am really concerned to be hearing that hill farmers in some parts of the country are almost being blackmailed to further reduce stocking and grazing levels in order to access interim countryside stewardship schemes. We know these schemes are essential to the viability of many upland farms, although, it gets to a point when the restrictions they place on the farming enterprise make them not worthwhile at all.”

Natural England is risking alienating hill farmers and pushing them away from environmental schemes by limiting their farming activities with no evidence that this will improve habitats and the wider environment. Mr Stocker continues: “I would strongly suggest that while farming and land management is in such a transitional phase as we exit the EU and introduce a new approach towards payment for public goods, and while we have a number of ELMS test and trial projects in place, that we have a moratorium on any changes to existing agri environment agreements.

Reducing sheep numbers in the summer or the winter will not improve environments and NSA say there appear to be many upland areas that are suffering from undergrazing currently. Mr Stocker adds: “What is needed is a halt to any new requirements and a recognition that a blanket policy of reducing sheep numbers as a proxy for environmental improvements (often based on an easy income foregone calculation) is now an outdated approach.

“We risk undermining very traditional upland grazing systems and once they are lost, along with the skills and the people, they are very difficult to get back.”