Tenant farmers under pressure as landowners reclaim land

The National Sheep Association (NSA) believes traditional farming practices could be threatened as large landowners seek to reclaim farmland in favour of economically beneficial environmental practices.

At a recent meeting of the NSA Northern Region and the Farming Network farmers said they were being squeezed out of short term lets and Farm Business Tenancies (FBT) as landowners take back land, in most cases to get involved in large scale tree planting, rewilding and other environmental projects. In some cases, others at the meeting claimed that this trend appears to be linked to tax benefits of being active in farming and land management.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker was in attendance at the meeting and says, “NSA is hearing of an alarming number of cases involving the loss of significant areas of land on five year FBTs, leaving farmers with unviable holdings either owned or on a full agricultural tenancy. It is clear this is a common problem in parts of the north of England, where a high percentage of farm land is tenanted and owned by large private estates, corporate organisations such as water companies, and Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs).”

The practice of estates reclaiming land on short term lets is often driven by landowners and agents seeking to reduce tax liability, and increase income through government and private schemes including carbon offsetting, biodiversity net gain, and tree planting. But significant changes are also being driven by Natural England related to stocking reductions and Countryside and Higher Level Stewardship renewals.

Mr Stocker continues, “In some areas we are seeing a breakdown in traditional sheep farming and grazing practices, with holdings becoming unviable, and tenants often not having the opportunity to benefit from the schemes that land is being entered into. This is not new, it’s a trend that has been going on for some time, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest it is increasing rapidly at a time when food production has been recognised as fragile.”

NSA is keen to work with The Farmer Network and the Tenant Farmers Association, both of which are closely connected to this issue, in order to raise awareness of this problem and to highlight some of the consequences of policy decisions such as carbon credits and schemes that exclude farming.

Farmers currently affected by this issue (whether in the north of England or further afield) are encouraged to contact NSA to provide a more accurate view of what is happening.

To contact NSA please email [email protected] or telephone 01684 892661.

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