Former Defra Board member Ben Goldsmith has been criticised for his 'incorrect and damaging' viewpoints on British sheep farming after he admitted he is 'anti-sheep'.
Speaking on Twitter, Mr Goldsmith said it was an "unavoidable truth" that sheep were the "principal obstacle" to "meaningful nature recovery" in the UK.
“There is no getting around it. The sheep have got to go," he said in a series of Tweets posted earlier this week.
It’s time to talk about sheep. The unavoidable truth is that sheep are the principal obstacle standing in the way of meaningful nature recovery in Britain’s national parks and other agriculturally marginal landscapes. There is no getting around it. The sheep have got to go.— Ben Goldsmith (@BenGoldsmith) March 14, 2023
I'm in trouble for saying that sheep are an obstacle to restoring nature in Britain's remoter landscapes, and especially in our national parks. I am anti sheep, but I am most certainly not not anti farmers. This, by me for Country Life not so long ago: https://t.co/GNKihbFTQ5— Ben Goldsmith (@BenGoldsmith) March 15, 2023
The National Sheep Association (NSA) said it was 'exasperated' by the comments, calling them "naïve and uneducated".
The association said sheep had "created and maintained some of the most loved landscapes" in the country.
NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker said: “It is no accident that most of our National Parks are in areas predominated for generations by grassland and sheep.
“The unique environment, working for most times in harmony with sheep farming, is highly valuable in relation to water management and quality, carbon sequestration, and nature, and provides people with social and health benefits.”
However, the body conceded the fact that UK farming used to focus solely on production rather than the environment, but that was changing.
The NSA said sheep farming was now practiced with "appreciation for the environment", and a 40% increase in demand and applications for Countryside Stewardship showed this.
Mr Stocker continued: “Both the Countryside Stewardship schemes, HLS and the new Environmental Land Management schemes have the environment and nature at their heart, ensuring the wildlife of Britain has increasingly improving habitats.
"The success of many of our native wildlife lifecycles are directly linked to livestock grazing providing food, nutrients, and a favourable environment.”
He concluded that the association was 'incredibly disappointed' that senior officials and Defra representatives could be 'ignorant' to the benefits of grazing animals.
"[We] strongly urge the department to ensure improved understanding of those who would benefit from better appreciation of this.”