RORY CHALLENGES ENVIRONMENTALISTS TO PROTECT SMALL UPLAND FARMS
Rory – who represents the constituency with the highest percentage of upland farmland in England – has in the latest of a series of articles in support of Cumbria’s small upland farms, called on environmentalists to recognise the complexity of the challenges small hill farmers face in balancing environmental stewardship, and the practices of maintaining grazing flocks. His article follows a recent disagreement with columnist and ‘re-wilding’ enthusiast George Monbiot, and a meeting last week at Haweswater with the RSPB to look at the charity’s work in conservation and its impact on local Lakeland farmers, which have radically reduced in the last fifty years.
In an article which highlights concerns about the narrow focus of upland farming policy and about the diminishing of flock sizes, the degradation of pasture-land and the loss of traditional shepherding skills, he calls for greater emphasis on the cultural and societal benefits that upland farms bring to the landscape, and encourages a move away from a view which only considers their financial or biological value. He argues for the need to recognise small upland farms as an inherent part of our national identity, and of intrinsic value to the future of Britain. The article, printed on the influential Green Alliance blog, prompted a reply from the Lake District National Park Authority’s chief executive, Richard Leafe, who shares Rory Stewart’s concerns for the future of small farms whilst stressing his belief in the need to reward farmers for their role as environmental stewards.
Responding, Rory said: “I was pleased to see Richard keep this issue at the forefront of public debate. I would not necessarily agree with him on the extent to which more emphasis on biodiversity and carbon capture are the answer to upland farmers’ problems. From what I have seen, environmental policies can often work against small farms, reducing the number of sheep on the fells, and making it increasingly difficult for sheep farmers to be sheep farmers.
Where I think we do agree though, is on the need for a stronger debate around the real value of these farms, and why must do all we can to protect them. I worry that the upland farmer’s views do not feature prominently enough in the boardroom on a regular basis. Both the RSPB and United Utilities have recently talked me through some of the fantastic projects they have set up in the Haweswater area to understand the complexity of the challenges our upland farmers face. Too often though, these initiatives are the exception, or simply isolated examples of good practice. Without a broader, more all-encompassing strategy in place, we still risk seeing our small farms disappear.”
Rory and Richard’s articles can be found in full at