Launching the report Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP, said:
"The Government must find a better way to pay farmers for maintaining our unique upland landscapes.
Headage payments, together with appropriate environmental safeguards, could provide the answer for these remote farming areas.
Tenant farmers are having a particularly hard time; headage payments would remove some of the obstacles they face accessing EU funds they are entitled to."
Supporting hill farmers
MPs recommend changes to the way money from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is used to support hill farmers. Farming, in particular grazing livestock, is an essential part of the landscapes and traditional systems of land management in these beautiful and fragile areas.
A return to headage payments in limited circumstances, with appropriate environmental conditions to prevent overstocking, would provide fairer funding to hill farmers.
Miss McIntosh adds,
"Headage payments would enable tenant farmers to access funding they need while meeting, or improving on, the current environmental conditions applied to CAP payments. Like the Commission for Rural Communities we believe that changes must be made to the way in which CAP environmental payments are calculated."
The Committee also calls on the Government to do more to enable hill farmers to diversify into other land management activities—such as carbon storage and water quality schemes.
Anne McIntosh adds;
"Government must ensure farm businesses can provide a decent income for hard-pressed hill farmers. Farmers in the uplands already do a huge amount of unpaid work that benefits the public. The challenge for Ministers is to find a way to reward farmers for those public benefits while preserving their way of life and wonderful landscapes of our uplands"
Speaking up for rural communities
The report calls on the Government to demonstrate a stronger commitment to upland communities. Having abolished the Commission for Rural Communities - the public body that advised Government on rural issues -the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must ensure that rural policies and their delivery are not neglected. To that end MPs call on Ministers to:
- Publish a strategy for the uplands that sets out a clear action plan with practical measures to be implemented immediately
- Provide strong leadership across all Government departments to make sure that rural and upland communities get a fair deal
- Create a statutory definition of the uplands to assist the Government in targeting policy
- Make sure that all farmers and rural communities can get access to development grants once RDAs have been abolished
- Work across Government to put in place policies that support those that live and work in the uplands, in particular rolling out super-fast broadband for remote rural communities and increasing the availability of affordable housing
- Give National Parks a statutory duty to do more to encourage social and economic development