More support needed for hill farmers to protect nature, report says

The report shows that 'lower impact, nature friendly farming' could increase profits for farmers, but only with the right support from government
The report shows that 'lower impact, nature friendly farming' could increase profits for farmers, but only with the right support from government

The UK's hill farmers need more financial support from government in order to continue protecting and safeguarding nature, a report says.

The RSPB report, released this week, highlights the unique challenges the country's upland farmers face.

Farmers already face tight profit margins, increasingly unpredictable weather and consumer demand for ultra-low food prices.

But profit challenges are being felt most acutely in the uplands and other marginal areas, such as coasts and remote islands.

The report uncovered evidence that the current business system makes it harder for hill farmers to turn a profit.

It found that inputs such as artificial fertilisers generally fail to increase profit margins.

Instead, the charity said profitability could be improved by taking a nature friendly approach which relies only on the farm’s own natural assets.

The report goes on to say that moving away from a business model that prioritises production over profit would boost farm finances.

It would also deliver benefits for wildlife which depends upon upland habitats, such as flower-rich meadows and pastures.

The report’s authors urge farmers to market themselves as a 'premium, nature-friendly and eco-conscious brand'.

Farmers who scale back their overheads and reduce stock numbers could run more profitable businesses that are better for nature too.

Chris Clark, a hill farmer and business consultant from the Yorkshire Dales, said the sector needs more government support to realise this.

“Farmers in the uplands and other marginal areas are already working hard to keep their businesses afloat and are facing real uncertainty about the future.

“Farmers urgently need support to adapt to a new business model, based on environmental credentials and added-value,” he said.

The report was commissioned by the RSPB, National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts. They are now urging government to act and do more to support hill farmers to adapt to the inevitable changes.

Tom Lancaster, Head of Land and Seas policy at the RSPB said: “Farming with nature is central to the future of wildlife in the UK, and we now know this can also improve farmers’ bottom line as well.

“Farmers should be supported to make the transition to nature-friendly farming, including through advice and training, which government must support, as well as payments for the public goods that these farms can provide.”

The conservation groups say it is 'critical' for the next government to deliver a new system of farm payments which delivers for the environment and the future of hill farming.