While in the UK we appear to be basking in the luxury of debating re-wilding and de-stocking of our hills and uplands, the most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report this week on climate change has taken a significant change of tack with a strong recognition of the risks of climate change to food production and human security, says the National Sheep Association (NSA).
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “The panel has concluded that globally climate change is already having real effects with heat waves, wildfires, heavy rain and mega-disasters. The warning signs about climate change have been accumulating over time but this is the first time the IPCC has drawn a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity and conflict, with Chairman Rajendra Pachauri saying the world has to ‘adapt and mitigate’ to avoid disaster.
“Here in the UK we don’t need much reminding of the volatile weather we have experienced over recent years – most recently with devastating flooding and rainfall for most of the winter. This IPCC report means we have the evidence needed to ensure our hills and uplands maintain their capability to contribute to food security. This means keeping the people with the knowledge and experience in place and giving them the incentives to step up their productivity and play their part in optimising land use.
“Who knows what will happen over future decades and how extreme some of these changes in weather may be, but it seems to me that if we lose some of the productivity of our lowlands due to flooding, and that drought becomes another serious limiting factor, then our uplands with their higher rainfall pattern will be crucial to us for food security. It doesn’t have to be either food production or the environment – we have to achieve the optimum balance of the two on all our land.”
Looking specifically to the uplands, NSA is in support of the current CAP reform implementing Area of Natural Constraint (ANC) schemes in appropriate areas of the UK. This is particularly pertinent in Wales, where the Government in currently consulting on the options for ANCs, having already taken decisions to remove (via modulation) the maximum amount permitted by the EU from direct payments to farmers and offer just £20/ha for moorland.
Mr Stocker continues: “With the Welsh Government’s Glastir consultation recently closing and another consultation on Rural Development drawing to a close soon, NSA urges the Welsh Government to fully consider additional ANC-type payments for upland farmers above the 400-metre moorland line. The threat of a reduction in support to £20/ha will do nothing to keep this land within its productive potential.”
John Staley, an NSA member farming near Llangorse, Powys, echoes this. He says: “I have been saying for some time that there are real risks with land designations and agri-environment schemes driving sheep numbers downwards and even removing the potential to increase them again after an agreement has ended. The IPCC report just supports my view that we need to be careful not to tie farmers down with legislation and schemes that stop them doing what they do best.”
David Gatehouse, also farming at Llangorse, Powys, says: “This latest round of CAP reform will affect different farms in different ways but it will lead to an immediate reduction on my own farm of £12,000, a drop of around 35-40%. I am not in Glastir, but to try to replace income with Glastir is a nonstarter for me because it simply reduces my ability to produce and does not adequately compensate at a time when markets are strong.”