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The Future of the UK’s iconic wildlife hangs in the balance

the futureThe character, wildlife and heritage of many of the UK’s iconic landscapes – from the Cornish coast to the islands of Scotland – hang in the balance warn a coalition of farming, wildlife, environmental and heritage groups, unless there is a way of improving the package of support farmers receive for managing these areas sympathetically.

The coalition of 18 organisations have written to Owen Paterson MP – the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and also to the agriculture ministers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – warning them of the impending crisis facing wildlife, landscape and communities in so-called High Nature Value (HNV) farming areas.

High Nature Value (HNV) farming is mainly associated with extensive beef and sheep farming in upland and marginal areas, many of which are designated as nationally important landscapes, where there is a high reliance on extensive grazing. Harsh climatic factors, poor land quality and distance from markets makes farming these areas particularly difficult but the survival of many species and habitats depends on the low intensity management practices– such as grazing with low stocking rates and the traditional mowing of hay meadows –found on High Nature Value farms.

Lowland HNV farms, managed at a low intensity, can also deliver a patchwork of habitats and farmland features which provide important refuges for wildlife.

Market forces are leaving High Nature Value farmers with a stark choice between intensifying or abandoning both of which can have disastrous consequences for wildlife, valued landscapes and rural communities.

The coalition has identified five steps that need to be taken to create a more positive future for these areas.

In the letter, the organisations say: “Across much of the UK, especially in the uplands and marginal areas, many of our most iconic landscapes and species are sustained by High Nature Value farming systems which deliver a range of public benefits, alongside high quality food production.

“Despite providing a host of benefits for society, these special farming systems are economically vulnerable because the market fails to pay for those benefits, and without a better package of public support, the future of High Nature Value farming in the UK hangs in the balance.”

Malcolm Woodhouse, who runs a farm in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire said; “Farming this way is all I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t be here without our agri-environment scheme payments, but in an ideal world I want to move away from subsidies and receive a better price for the quality product I produce. The 40-50 acre farms have gone, without better support the 200 acre farms will be next to go. To ensure the next generation stay in farming we must make farming a viable option for them.”

The coalition of organisations includes a cross-section of farming and conservation organisations. The organisations include: Scottish Crofters Federation; South West Uplands Federation; National Centre for the Uplands; Foundation for Common Land; Federation of Cumbria Commoners; National Parks England; The National Association for AONBs, RSPB; Buglife; Plantlife; European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism (EFNCP); Butterfly Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts , Ulster Wildlife Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, The National Trust for Scotland, The National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Archaeology Scotland.

Julia Aglionby, Director of the National Centre for the Uplands said; “We are in the bizarre position where current support payments are inversely correlated with the benefits farmers provide to society. Hill farmers look after our most valued landscapes and habitats but receive a fraction of the payment of lowland farmers. The steps proposed in this letter are critical to redressing that balance in the interests of natural justice both for society and vulnerable hill farmers.”

John Waldon, speaking for the South West Uplands Federation, said; “The farmed landscapes of the south west uplands are some of the most iconic landscapes in the country, providing an impressive array of public benefits. However public access and the management of the historic and natural environment are threatened as the farmers who provide the necessary management face ever increasing costs and lower public support. Farmers want to continue to manage the moors but the link between providing public goods and receiving public support needs to be re-established.”

Paul Hamblin, Director of National Parks England said: “The beautiful landscapes of our national parks have been shaped by farming.  The National Park Authorities work closely with the farming community to ensure high quality food, landscapes and flourishing wildlife are achieved through sensitive farming practices.  We are pleased to support this initiative and hope decisions on CAP reform will recognise the substantive benefits of high nature value farming.”

Howard Davies, Chief Executive, The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said; “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are cultural landscapes of immense importance both nationally and locally. They are the product of the interaction of people and nature and their special qualities are often the product of farming. AONB partnerships work closely with farmers, recognising the important role they play in the stewardship of our finest landscapes. We strongly support this initiative and work hard to ensure that high nature value farming remains an integral component of our rural economy.”

Lisa Schneidau, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Project Manager for the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area, said: “In large areas of rural Devon, our wildlife and natural heritage assets are completely reliant on sympathetic farming. Most farmers working marginal and challenging land here and elsewhere in the UK cannot afford to look after wildlife without help from agri-environment grants.

“These grants are excellent value for money in helping to maintain and improve the services provided to society by a wildlife-rich landscape: for example, clean water, flood management, tourism and high quality food. Agri-environment schemes are crucial to the continuation of high nature value farming and the benefits they bring to rural communities. Any reduction in their funding could decimate our precious landscapes and leave many farmers unable to sustain wildlife-rich areas.”

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife said; “Looking after High Nature Value farmland will help to maintain the beautiful and rich countryside that British people love”.

Jonathan Wordsworth, Rural Land Use Adviser, Archaeology Scotland said; “Caring for our heritage together with HNV areas creates valued countryside and landscapes, benefiting us all including the people depends on these for their livelihood.”

The coalition is also keen to describe the wider benefits these landscapes bring, particularly to the tourist industry.  According to natural England nearly 70 million day visits are made to upland National Parks each year from across the country.

For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Tony Whitehead, RSPB South West Press Officer 01392 453754, 07872 414365

Grahame Madge, RSPB media officer: 01767 681577 Out of hours: 07702 196902

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