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Richard Mawdsley has sent,

  • The article as it appeared in the C & W Herald (23 Oct)
  • The EN commissioned report mentioned in the NFU piece
  • The refutation by the NFU of the EN statement in the above article (6 Nov) If anyone wants to send a letter to the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald:- mail@cwherald.com

    Or, the Agricultural Editor, Guy Hearst:- guyh@cwherald.com

    They like letters to be in early; Wednesday at the latest. It would be good to keep the pot boiling.

    Perhaps a ‘National’ will take up the crusade.

     


    Consultation claim refuted by NFU

     

    Published in Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, Saturday 6th Nov 2004.

     

     

    A leading Cumbrian NFU official has refuted a claim by English Nature that the two bodies worked together closely over the introduction in the county of the sheep and wildlife enhancement scheme (SWES), which has seen the stocking densities fall to what some farmers believe are unsustainably low levels.

     

    The claim was made by an English Nature official in response to criticism of the scheme by hill farmer Richard Mawdsley, of Dash Farm, near Keswick, who said it threatens the future of the traditional hefting system and does not deliver the desired environmental benefits.

     

    However, NFU less favoured area spokesman Will Cockbain, Rakefoot Farm, Keswick, has denied there was any such co-operation over the scheme, saying: “the NFU has always argued against the use of the national envelope to fund both the quota buy-up scheme and the sheep and wildlife enhancement scheme.”

     

    “Whilst recognising that English nature has been tasked by the government to ensure 95% of SSSI land is in ‘favourable condition’ by 2010, we publicly raised concerns over the lack of consultation by English Nature before the scheme was launched.  We also raised concerns about the extremely low stocking rate and knock-on effects to other non-SWES farmers, as well as the long-term sustainability of fell management at these levels.”

     

    “As a result of meetings with English nature after the launch of SWES, English Nature agreed to commission a study to look at the concerns raised.  A company called Agra CEAS Consulting Ltd did the research and English Nature published the results in August of this year.”

     

    He added: “although there are no more plans for future SWES agreements, the NFU believes that any future schemes need full consultation with the industry and need to address economic, social and cultural issues as well as environmental ones.”

     

    Socio-economic impact of the Conservation Grazing Regime in Cumbria

     

    Prepared by Agra CEAS Consulting Ltd for English Nature

     

    Presentation of key findings – 17th August 2004

     

    Agra CEAS Consulting Ltd

     

    ·         Provision of specialist economic and policy advice and analysis for companies and institutions in the fields of agriculture, food and drink, rural development environment and trade for thirty years.

     

    ·         Joint venture between Imperial College and Agra Informa Ltd (a subsidiary of Informa plc).

     

    ·         Established at the Bureau Europeen de Recherchés in Brussels in 1973 and at Imperial College's Centre for European Agricultural Studies (CEAS) in Wye in 1986.

     

    ·         Unique linkages:

    - Academic resources of Imperial College London.

    - Commercial strengths of Agra Informa and T&F Informa.

    - EU policy-making environment through our Brussels operation situated close to the European Institutions.

     

    ·         These linkages enhance our ability to provide specialist advice and analysis by providing us with an approach that combines in-depth knowledge and experience with the rigour of an academic establishment operating within a commercial environment.

     

    ·         Agra CEAS has a long track record of policy evaluation and economic analysis for the European Commission, Defra, other government departments and the private sector.

    ·         Example projects include:

    - Mid-term evaluation of the Wales RDP (Welsh Assembly).

    - Sustainable agriculture: Agri-environment programmes in the EU Member States and three EU acceding states private client).

    - Socio-economic evaluation of the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme (Countryside Council for Wales).

    - Economic Evaluation of the Action Plan for Farming (Defra).

    ____________________________________

     

     

    Socio-Economic Impacts of Conservation Grazing in Cumbria

     

    Objective:

     

    - To make an initial assessment of the socio-economic impact of English Nature's contribution to the Conservation Grazing Regime (CGR) in Cumbria, /.i.e. those English Nature schemes which make up the Sustainable Grazing Initiative (SGI).

     

    ·         Methodology:

    1. An Expert Opinion after consultation with stakeholders.

    2. Research to identify impact of CGR via farmer interviews and e-mail survey of other stakeholders.

     

    The Expert Opinion

     

    ·         English Nature had requested stakeholder views on the CGR. Twenty issues resulted, and Agra CEAS reviewed and assessed them for English Nature action as either:

    (i)                  Short-term, English Nature remit

    (ii)                long-term, English Nature remit

    (iii)               a potential partnership question, or

    (iv)              a question for other stakeholders.

    ·         The short-term questions were selected for further investigation via farmer interviews and e-mail survey of other stakeholders.

     

    The short-term questions

    Six questions identified, in the following categories:

    ·         Financial/Economic

    1. Financial performance of farms.

    2. Labour use, including ability to shepherd.

    3. Prices of store and breeding stock.

    ·         Farm management

     

    4. Hefting; conservation hefts; shepherding; animal welfare.

    ·         Social

     

    5. Attitudes of stakeholders to the CGR.

    6. Potential SGI impact on farmers.

     

    The Research

    ·         Six chosen questions used as basis for guided questionnaire, for:

    (i)                  Farmer interviews.

                     (ii)        E-mail survey of other stakeholders.

     

    ·         Three case study areas chosen for a total of 53 farmer interviews, in consultation with English Nature:

     

    - Moorhouse    (14 impact and 5 control farmers)

     

    - Helvellyn       (9 impact and 5 control farmers)

     

    - Skiddaw       (15 impact and 5 control farmers)

     

    Case Study, Farmer Interview Results

                   Generic findings across three case study sites:

     

    ·         Financial performance. Impact of SGI marginal or too early to assess, and largely overshadowed by foot and mouth disease (FMD):

     

    - Costs. No consistent effects of SGI. Increased fuel costs, but not directly connected to SGI.

     

    - Revenue. Some benefits, compensating for reductions in sales.

     

    - Net farm income. Some views that SGI had led to increases, though majority felt there had been no clear change.

     

    ·         Labour

    ·         Generally no changes due to SGI, though any additional demands met by family members for smaller, family-run farms.

             

    - Shepherding. Less sheep means more time to complete shepherding tasks, reduced hefts, and reduced scale economies. These changes had proved to be greater than anticipated.

     

    - Collective shepherding. Less effective, with some strain on good will between farmers. Generally full, collective shepherding not seen as desirable but some continuing co-operation useful.

     

    Case Study, Farmer Interview Results

    Farm management:

     

    - Hefts. In decline, though FMD issue more powerful than SGI.

     

    - Conservation hefts. Non-viable without fencing.

    - Animal welfare. SGI a positive effect, leading to better grazing, healthier animals and a reduction in scab. Some problems with more twin lambs.

     

    - Other aspects. Some farmer concern about the 'one size fits all' approach, though English Nature stress that the SGI is quite flexible.

     

    ·         Perceptions of SGI:

     

    - Generally positive, especially as a recovery tool post-FMD.

     

    - Over-grazing recognised to have been a problem pre-FMD and that the SGI will help reduce re-occurrence.

     

    - Wildlife seen as benefiting.

     

    - Financial stability for farmers improving.

     

    - 60% stock reductions seen as too severe, with some inflexibility of English Nature on negotiation of sheep-weeks.

     

    ·         Perceptions of CGR:

     

    - Generally positive, though concerns about farming to conserve rather than produce food.

     

    - Lack of appreciation by farmers of the aims of conservation measures and Government-set targets for bodies like English Nature.

     

    - Hill farms are the livelihood of resident farmers and they should have control over management rather than outside bodies.

     

    - Ground nesting birds seen as at risk due to less open vegetation for chicks.

     

    E-mail survey of other stakeholders

    Financial performance:

    • Mixed response.

     

           - Financial impact of SGI seen as variable.

     

           - However, SGI seen as valuable source of income, and indirectly helping to restrict supply and support prices.

     

           - CGR (especially Countryside Stewardship Scheme) does not adequately compensate for reduced stock.

     

           - CAP reform important, as decoupling of headage payments will help farm finances.

     

    Labour:

     

            - SGI often leads to increased shepherding commitments.

     

            - May have exacerbated trend towards more part-time and casual labour.

     

            - Reduced labour requirements: essential skills and knowledge being lost.

     

    Farm management:

     

            - Main impact of SGI relates to reduced hefting.

     

             - Risks of move towards open-style ranching of sheep.

     

            - 'Creeping' of lowland sheep into upland areas.

     

            - Reduced stocking density may lead to patchy grazing, greater vegetation density and more disease problems.

     

    Overall perceptions of the CGR (with SGI as a component):

     

            - Lack of transparency by English Nature and reduced communication with stakeholder groups.

     

            - Many interested stakeholder groups unsure of details of SGI and relationship to CGR.

     

            - SGI/CGR perceived as concerned more with nature conservation, with issues of landscape and socio-economics being overlooked.

     

           - A longer-term, staged approach to stocking reductions might help: 'too much too soon.'

     

     

    Conclusions and Recommendations

    Financial performance

    Key Conclusions:

    • Impact likely to be marginal compared with FMD.

    • Some decreased revenue, but market prices may compensate.

    • Payments may help protect from income variability.

     

                    Key Recommendations:

    • Continue to monitor, and consider ways of addressing adverse impacts.

    • Investigate ways of mitigating impact leakage.

    Labour
                   Key Conclusions:

    • Reduced stocking increased time needed to shepherd.

    • Sheep: shepherd less important than managing smaller flock.

    • Real concerns about the future.

     

                   Key Recommendation:

    • Consultations needed with other stakeholders to consider ways of effectively shepherding in the future.

    Prices
                   Key Conclusion:

    • Increase in price for sheep following FMD not related to SGI but may be helping to sustain prices by limiting supply.

     

                   Key Recommendation:

    • English Nature should consult other organisations, to seek a price premium as a result of any increases in sheep quality due to SGI.

     

    Farm management

                   Key Conclusion:

    • Hefting being put at risk and causing shepherding difficulties due to lower stocking densities.

     

                   Key Recommendations:

    • English Nature should urgently investigate solutions to hefting problems with stakeholders.

     

    • English Nature and the Rural Development Service should investigate implications of CGR for the environment and animal welfare.

     

    Perceptions of SGI/CGR


     
                   Key Conclusion:

    • Overgrazing was a problem prior to FMD. The SGI was a useful tool to help achieve control of grazing, especially in the aftermath of FMD. However, some criticisms lead to the recommendations below.

     

                     Key Recommendations:

    • English Nature needs more flexibility in SGI prescriptions.

     

    • Greater stakeholder consultation/dialogue is needed.

     

    • Longer-term policies needed, to keep environmental gains.

    Recommendations on other issues

     

    • Establish a baseline against which changes can be measured. Benchmarking will be important. If baselines cannot be developed, a qualitative approach should be used, with further research commissioned by independent organisations.

     

    • The CGR should be used to set objectives and indicators that can be monitored, to allow sustainability appraisal and thus policy evaluation.

     

    Issues best tackled through partnership

                  Key Recommendations:

    • Review effects of the current approach to the CGR on Cumbria's farming practices.

     

    • Identify the information needs that will improve ongoing debates between English Nature and stakeholders.

     

    • Consider the scope for developing a set of environmental indicators, to assess improvements.

     

    • Assess implications of the CGR for the appearance of upland landscapes in the next 10 years.

     

    • English Nature to consider setting up a stakeholder forum.

     


    Published in Cumberland and Westmorland Herald 23rd of October 2004

     

    The large number of hill sheep sold at this year’s autumn sales has provoked much comment from Lake District farmers, with many saying this exodus is the result of environmental policies which are causing the area’s traditional upland farming systems to break down.

     

    This, they believe, will damage the economy of the area and also its social structure while not delivering any environmental benefits, in fact, they say the reverse is likely to be the case.

     

    According to some farmers, the environmental policy of reducing sheep numbers to 1.5 ewes per hectare on areas considered to be dry heath might allow the long-standing hefting system to survive, at least in the short term, but the deeper cuts already made in some areas have made it unworkable.  Sheep are straying over ever wider areas and farmers lack the time to make constant trips, some of 100 miles or more, to return them.

     

    Those sheep sold – and in many cases slaughtered – will be almost impossible to replace, since it takes years to establish the hefting instinct through constant and intensive shepherding.

     

    The scale of the de-stocking has been evident at several sales centres, with Adam Day, of Cockermouth based mart firm Mitchell’s, saying the company has sold more ewes at sales this autumn than for many years.  The same has been true at Penrith mart where large numbers of Herdwick have gone under the hammer.

     

    One of the farmers who sells at Cockermouth and has been alarmed by what he has seen is Richard Mawdsley of Dash Farm, who grazes sheep on Bassenthwaite Common, and, where the stocking rate has effectively been reduced to just over one ewe per hectare under English Nature’s sheep and wildlife enhancements scheme.

     

    Mr Mawdsley declined to reduce his flock under the “voluntary” scheme, which would have meant his fellow graziers could not have entered into it themselves and received the resultant payments, apart from the fact an agreement was reached under which one commoner did not exercise his rights.

     

    His reluctance to enter the scheme stemmed from the fact he believes the removal of sheep across the Lake District represents a “social, economic and ecological catastrophe” which ignores EU and other international directives which refer to the need to protect and make use of local communities and their customs.

     

    He also says the science behind the cuts is unsound, with English Nature blaming many variations in flora on the fells on “overgrazing” when climatic or historical factors are the real cause.  He points out that the stocking rates laid down in English Nature’s upland management handbook are expressed as “year-round”, which means average, yet are often taken as being maximum figures in the mistaken belief the greater the stock reductions the greater the improvements to habitat.

     

    Additionally, insufficient account is taken of regional variations, with the same rules being applied “from Bodmin Moor to Bewcastle Waste”.  Where stocking rates get too low, sheep leave their traditional hefts on poorer ground and move to richer pastures, allowing only the most vigorous plants to thrive.

     

    Surplus vegetation

     

    He said, “If stock numbers are reduced below the level of sustainability, especially in summer, there will be a surplus of vegetation, for example the more vigorous and dominant grasses will become rank and unpalatable, thereby not only reducing the stock carrying capacity but also the biodiversity – the more delicate plants will be smothered.” 

     

    Where this happens, vermin such as ticks can become established, discouraging sheep from ever returning, and the risk of fire is greatly increased.  To make matters worse in this respect, English Nature is very reluctant to permit the use of burning as a management technique.

     

    Mr Mawdsley claims the grants given to farmers under the sheep and wildlife enhancement scheme are simply money previously withheld from their Sheep Annual Premium Scheme payments, and do not provide the same benefits to either the local or national economies of having sheep on the fells.  Locally, mart firms, vets, feed merchants and many agricultural workers lose trade and receive no compensation.  Meanwhile, the country as a whole ends up importing lamb from overseas rather than be a net exporter.

     

    Many of Mr Mawdsley’s concerns are shared by officials of the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners, who say the situation is becoming particularly serious in the central Lake District, with sheep from Langdale regularly turning up in Wasdale or Ennerdale.

     

    Federation Chairman Harry Hutchinson, Uldale House, Fell End, Ravenstonedale, said; “The hefting system is a part of our heritage in this area and it will disappear.  Once the sheep have gone, it will be a dickens of a job ever to get them back.”

     

    However, English Nature officials defend the reduction in sheep numbers, saying they are aware of farmers concerns and are working with the NFU and other bodies to meet them.  The important thing, they say, is to achieve a balance between production and maintaining healthy habitats, which is what is being achieved.

     

    Dan Hunt, the national project officer for the sheep and wildlife enhancements scheme, said each farmer and common is dealt with on an individual basis, while the grazing model used to establish suitable stocking rates is able to take into account local conditions.

     

    Payments are made not just to compensate farmers for the sheep they remove, but also to help with shepherding costs associated with maintaining hefts.

     

    He added that the areas under the scheme are of national and international importance, and many have already seen major habitat improvement, with significant increases in the amount of vegetation cover.