Penrith and The Border MP, Rory Stewart, has again called for greater support for Cumbrian small farmers in his most recent meeting with Lake District National Park Chief Executive, Richard Leafe, in his longstanding campaign to preserve small upland farms, and the families and local communities they support. Rory Stewart has repeatedly met with local farming stakeholders, including Natural England, United Utilities, the NFU, the RSPB and The Environment Agency, to ensure they understand the serious challenges local small farms face, and the need for a genuine commitment to ensuring their long-term preservation as traditional, working farms.

At a meeting with the Upper Eden Farmers group in Ravenstonedale earlier in the day, Mr Stewart was told how the number of farmers in the local area has halved over the last 25 years, as pressures from every possible direction had made the job increasingly untenable. The impact on the local community has been evident, with the loss of two pubs and a school, and many farmers now living increasingly isolated lives. The MP took questions on stocking levels, the EU’s role in farming, and the severe challenges currently being faced by the dairy industry in particular. Reiterating these concerns with Richard Leafe, Rory Stewart was also keen to stress that a commitment to small, upland farms was also good for the wider economy in the Lake District, with many tourists visiting the area to enjoy the close-cropped fells, sheep and working farms that form the iconic image of the national park.

Speaking after the meeting, Rory Stewart said:

“Our small farms in Cumbria are valuable in and of themselves. They are a fragile link to a local culture and history that extends back over 2,500 years. Cumbria’s cultural landscape is an inherent product of our small farming heritage, and their cultural impact is now at the heart of the Lake District’s bid to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But my meeting with Upper Eden farmers today saw them express real concerns over the long-term future of farming. Many are really struggling. Upland farmers have had to contend with a drive towards much lower stocking levels, and this is not only bad for them, but for our tourism-led economy too. Everyone I speak to is always keen to stress they are committed to supporting our small farms. But without a more concerted effort from all stakeholders to really understand local farmers and implement policies and practices that support them, I worry that the trend towards falling farm numbers will sadly continue.”

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