The landscape of the Dales, as we know and treasure it, reflects both the forces of nature and millennia of human occupation and activity. This has included both industrial and farming practices, the latter rooted in centuries of land and stock management. The seminal paper by John Dower said that farming is pivotal to what constitutes a National Park. In the Yorkshire Dales, agriculture remains a fundamentally important activity, not only managing the land and landscape features, but also employing 10% of the residents (in 2011).
Much of the land in the Yorkshire Dales consists of “uplands”. One definition of “uplands” is what is classed as a “severely disadvantaged area”. SDAs cover two thirds of our National Parks yet receive only 7% of support payments. By the NFU’s wider definition of “uplands”, which also includes some land not in the SDA, these areas have 44% of the national sheep flock and 40% of the beef herd. The importance of the upland breeding livestock resource cannot be overestimated in terms of its value to agriculture, both in the uplands and in strengthening livestock in the lowlands.
Globalisation, whilst providing many economic benefits to the national economy, can result in major problems for upland farmers. A recent example is the collapse of milk prices: many dairy farmers are forced to sell milk at prices lower than the actual cost of production. Similar fluctuations in beef, sheep and wool prices also cause major problems for farmers.
For these reasons, we believe that upland farming will continue to need external intervention in the market place in the form of support and subsidy, since it is essential for maintaining the national sheep flock and cattle herd, as well as maintaining the inspiring landscapes we most value, but is not a profitable farming practice. It also delivers a number of other public benefits, including food security, biodiversity, access, historic features, water quality, water supply, conservation of soils (including peat), and opportunities to moderate damaging river floods.
The YDNP is part of the area covered by the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership and the work of this body in promoting High Nature Value Farming should be recognized and supported both politically and financially.
- We believe that land used for the production of food is an important national resource and should be protected. Any proposals that result in the loss of such land should only be permitted where there is a clear justification. Land uses that impact on agricultural land, such as housing, solar arrays, biomass and biofuels, need to be carefully weighed up against the loss of productive land.
- We believe that retention of farming practices and maintenance of features which support and enhance biodiversity, the historic interest of the landscape and the provision of public access should attract financial and political support.
- We believe that stewardship schemes should have a stronger local focus, to enable them to effectively reflect local conditions and the cultural diversity of the Yorkshire Dales.
- We believe that “cross-compliance” should be more rigorously enforced: failure to maintain features promoting biodiversity, the obstruction of passage or failure to maintain access infrastructure, or the reduction of water quality, should result in removal or reduction of subsidy.
- We recognise that many modern farming practices require the use of larger and “non-traditional” buildings. We urge that these are sited so as to be as unobtrusive as possible in the landscape, and that their removal is required when they are no longer used.
- We acknowledge that many traditional stone field barns are no longer suitable for their former uses. Adapting these buildings so as to allow for new agricultural uses should be a first option, but we support some other new uses which will enable them to be kept in good condition, retaining their visual qualities and historic integrity and their place as well-loved features in the landscape. We firmly believe that proposals to change the use of barns must continue to be subject to the Planning system.
- We recognise drystone walls as a special and distinctive feature of the landscape of the Dales. Landowners and farmers should be supported to restore and retain boundary walls which in turn reflect historic field patterns.
What we will do
- We will support mechanisms for financial support for farming in the Yorkshire Dales. Besides action by Government, this may include seeking to persuade supermarkets, either voluntarily or through the Supermarket Ombudsman, to ensure that prices are paid for food products that reflect actual production costs.
- We will support the continuation wherever possible of small-scale farming, which we believe enables younger people to enter farming and is more likely to be sympathetic to the landscape.
- We will support appropriate forms of farm diversification and entrepreneurship as a way to improve the resilience of farming and the rural economy.
- We will support the awarding of Protected Geographical Indication status for distinctive food products produced on local farms. We will support the marketing of beef and lamb with a local Dales provenance in local restaurants, shops and supermarkets.
- We will support the work of the YDNPA to survey all traditional field barns within the National Park, and the use of the YDNPA “Toolkit” when considering future action in the case of individual barns.
- We will support the encouragement of traditional skills such as drystone-walling and hedge-laying.
- We will support the well-designed planting and maintenance of more hedges and native trees and shrubs as a means of encouraging biodiversity, water catchment management, carbon storage and protecting otherwise vulnerable crops.
- We will support the keeping alongside sheep of hardy cattle, particularly in limestone country, since this combination of livestock will maintain the sward in optimum condition.
- We will support the retention and restoration of species-rich hay meadows through appropriate management.
- We support programmes of educational farm visits, in order to help urban audiences relate to Dales communities, to respect the land and the landscape, and to appreciate locally produced food and services, whilst also helping farmers and the rural community to a better understanding of their visitors.