CUMBRIA farmer James Robinson has put together an open letter criticising the government for denying many farmers access to Higher Tier payment schemes in England, which he says are leaving many upland farmers without adequate support.
Thousands have signed a petition demanding more support for England’s uplands from the Government to help deliver ambitious land management through a reform of agricultural payments.
James Robinson has penned an open letter to environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, accusing policymakers of overlooking upland areas and leaving farmers in those places without adequate financial backing to deliver nature and climate outcomes.
James, who is NFFN England’s vice chair, said the government’s new agricultural policy, which ministers promised would prioritise and support environmental improvements, is not helping upland farmers, with far fewer of them being able to access higher tier agreements than in previous years.
Successful applications to these schemes have plunged by an alarming 80% in the space of a decade. Ten years ago, roughly 2,500 ambitious agreements were being put in place annually, enabling farmers to deliver high-quality environmental action on over 1.5 million hectares of land. In comparison, this year only 500 new Higher Tier agreements have been put in place.
James said, “When the government set out to move to a new agriculture policy that focused on environmental improvement, I saw this as a positive step. But in reality, it’s left a lot to be desired.
“The uplands are being overlooked despite the Government’s bold claims to offer more support for nature-friendly farming. In areas like mine up here in Cumbria, many have been left behind. Many farmers I know who have applied to these schemes this year with an appetite to do more for nature on their land have been denied access, and there are loads more who haven’t even bothered applying because they were expecting to be rejected.
“Enough is enough. We need schemes that will actually support farmers, help finance a farming transition and reward ambitious nature-friendly land management.”
James says the problems with the transition to the new system of farm payments, which is based around an approach of public money for public goods, are all the more frustrating as he believes upland and marginal farms can potentially make a big difference when it comes to boosting nature, combatting biodiversity loss and tackling climate change. He says these areas can also help reduce flood risks and improve water quality.
In his letter, he writes that the Higher Tier schemes offer a decent level of payments coupled with flexibility and advice. Together, he says, this is “crucial in securing the highest quality environmental outcomes from our land.” He says farmers who missed out on payments were “bitterly disappointed”, a situation he describes as “unacceptable” as it risks putting farms in upland areas and on marginal land out of business at a time when farmers are already grappling with high inflation, extreme weather conditions and a falling Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). Leaving this unaddressed, he said, would be a “deep betrayal” of these farmers.
The open letter demands Thérèse Coffey:
- Increase access to ambitious land management schemes, such as the Higher Tier of Countryside Stewardship and Landscape Recovery, to allow a minimum of 3,000 agreements to be created per year
- Put in place more support for farmers so they can deliver the outcomes for their land
- Provide a clear roadmap to show how farm policy and payments will change between now and 2030
- The petition has already attracted a significant level of support, with hundreds signing the open letter within hours of it going online.