A future for farming in National Parks

6 April 2018

When I was asked to blog about my farm in the Lake District National Park and how I balance the needs of the farm with the needs of the natural environment, I laughed. My reply, and the subject of this blog, is that the natural environment provides the opportunity for farming. We need to relearn the harmony in which the two chime together.

It is quite normal, however, for an observer to ask this question of a typical farm. The production led mind-set of many farmers often sees the environment as a wild beast that should be tamed: wetlands drained; rivers culverted; trees felled; hedgerows annually obliterated. Then, there are those who it suits to set aside an acre for nature. They’ll receive a payment for doing so and this will help their loss-making livestock enterprise. It’s normally their attitude that the rest of the farm will have to “work harder” to make up for the area that has been taken out of production.

Of course, this is ecologically impossible. The short term gain from the use of performance enhancing concoctions destroys the natural processes at work in the soil. Finally, the growing sector of Nature Friendly Farmers acknowledges that a holistic approach to land management achieves the very best ecological and economic performance. As a group of frontline farmers, we have a challenging mission this spring. We will lobby government to write policy that mainstreams farming with nature.

It’s encouraging to hear that many more hill farmers want to revive the old fashioned methods as a means of future-proofing their farms. They’re tired of the low margins realised from the higher quantity of production encouraged since the war. The biggest barrier to change is the worry about balancing the books through the tricky economic transition to farming with nature.

This is easy for me to say. I’m a newcomer to agriculture and can see the writing on the wall. For those in charge of generations-old family farms, change can be daunting for politic and social reasons too. There are many brave advocates though. Neil is the fourth generation of the Heseltine family at Hill Top Farm in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and provides a brilliant case study for farming with nature. By reducing his flock of sheep by two thirds, he increased his profit. Selling this strategy to peers at the auction mart is not conducive with the macho atmosphere around the livestock pens. For a long time, success has been measured by the size of your flock and how many sheep you can shear in a day.

It’s time to be proud about the profitability and the sustainability of our upland farms. What public goods do we provide? I’d be rather pleased if I could claim that a land management decision had stored carbon or reduced the flood risk of a residential area.

So, in the run up to a new Agriculture Bill, I urge you (the reader; the countryside lover; the meat eater; the taxpayer) to seek a greater understanding of our working landscapes and their functions, and our fragile rural communities. I urge you to demand positive changes in agriculture that will promote a future for farming and your family.

David Corrie-Close is a Lake District Farmer at the Horned Beef company.

Campaign for National Parks is working with partners to create a nature-friendly future for farming in the National Parks. Support our efforts to influence the Agriculture Bill.