Aim

To help secure sustainable farm businesses and engage with farmers and landowners to reduce run-off, nutrient and pesticide loss, and improve soils.

Why is this important?

The landscape has been shaped by agriculture through the centuries and has contributed to the scenery that we see today. However, farming faces constant economic pressure from external forces such as changing value of livestock, meat products and price of milk. It is constrained by the climate, environment and remoteness, giving farmers little opportunity to capitalise on these assets. It is well known that farm incomes in upland areas are nowhere near their lowland counterparts, and in a number of cases, the farm businesses are not sustainable.

Agriculture is responsible for 2.6 % of employment within Richmondshire, rising to 19% of employment within the National Park compared with a regional average of 1%. Not only is it a major employer, but is also a major contributor to the local economy.

In the Yorkshire Dales, 82% of farmland receives funding through national agri-environment schemes which encourage and support farming methods that benefit the environment and historic landscape. On average, these schemes provide a quarter of the total farm income and are an essential part of the farm enterprise and an essential mechanism to support beneficial land management.

What are the specific problems?

Between 2015 and 2020, numbers of national agri-environment scheme agreements are set to fall by 30%. Within Wensleydale, all 154 agri-environment scheme agreements will expire during this time. If the farms are unable to get into the new national agri-environment scheme, Countryside Stewardship, they will look to replace the lost income by intensifying farm practices and purchasing more livestock. This will inevitably put pressure on the environment.

Farmers are concerned about the age and condition of their farm infrastructure, particularly relating to livestock housing and manure storage. Poorly targeted grant funding programmes and low farm incomes have inhibited re-investment and modernisation.

Farm land is saturated for increasingly longer periods of the year. This has led to rush encroachment, unproductive hay meadows and a higher risk of liver fluke in sheep and cattle.

Compaction affects large parts of the catchment, from the dale bottom to within the moorland area. Soil compaction and its effects at farm level, and at a catchment scale is not widely understood by land managers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that extreme rainfall and flooding events are becoming more common throughout the catchment affecting farmland, properties, roads, fish populations and important freshwater wildlife habitats.

What are we going to do?

Develop a more coherent and accessible network of advice delivery by working in partnership with farmers, vets, grant providers, levy boards and research organisations.

Develop a series of farm based events focusing on solutions to soil compaction, rush encroachment, field drainage and improving forage quality. Work with groups of farmers to help them gain access to the national Countryside Stewardship scheme and support a co-ordinated approach to landscape scale management. Enable these groups to work together and share knowledge on farming and environmental management. Work with the farming community and Natural England, to develop a new type of agri-environment scheme focused on payment by results for hay meadows and habitat for breeding waders.