A while ago I tramped across the Peak District’s Bleaklow in mizzly drizzle, hot and puffing in my waterproof jacket; my legs aching from high stepping through the heather tufts. We reached a high point and stopped. All around, as I spun slowly, I could see hazy landscape; 360 degrees of our imperfect world. My cheeks were glowing and I felt strong and brave and my spirit lifted with joy. I was an explorer!
Moors for the Future is doing a fantastic job of repairing the peat, helping to recreate the huge carbon sink. We scrambled and slid down the ferny slopes back to the real world, back to my soft rolling white Peak landscape around Ilam and Dovedale. I revisit that high solitary place in my mind’s eye, and feel that thrill and burst of joy now and again. (I didn’t pay for it).
So how do you make a living in the English uplands; the real, heather clad, rough, tough inhospitable uplands? Yesterday I spoke to a friend. Feisty, intelligent and dynamic, she and her hard working farmer husband run an exemplary hill farm, environmentally sensitive, appropriately diversified and in a beautiful place.
“I just don’t know how we keep going” she said, “it’s been a really tough couple of weeks.” Their cattle have just failed their TB test. This on top of various other everyday farming and family incidents has brought her up short. “How are we supposed to care for these amazing places?” “It just doesn’t stack up financially anymore, simply to be a farmer.” The subsidy system currently should be helping here but because it is weighted towards higher yielding lowlands, the (now apparently valuable and important) uplands were not compensated for their additional hardships.
We talked about the new DEFRA Uplands Policy Review published earlier this month.
“It’s good as far as it goes” she said, “but it is still just tinkering at the edges”. “How is £20 million on broadband going to help the genuine old farming folk who only know how to farm? They know how to heft sheep, they know how to build and repair stone walls and tend heather, how to produce superb sheep and cattle often for finishing on lowland farms. They don’t make cheese or ice cream; they don’t have any easy diversification opportunities”.
This is the dilemma that hasn’t been dealt with- YET! From the English Uplands we get; clean water and carbon storage as well as recreation and opportunities to experience wilderness and adventure. We get opportunities to escape from our mundane crowded lives and expand our personal spaces and let our spirits soar!
I have been to so many conferences and seminars where earnest experts expound about “ecosystem services” and how money should be made available to pay for these “public goods”. If we don’t get on and do something very soon, the chance will be lost. Young farmers will not want to start farming in the Uplands when the returns are so low. The older farmers are dying out along with their knowledge and culture.
“If they were a building, they‘d slap a preservation order on the old farmers” my friend said.
My work as an Ecotourism consultant has lead me to work in Transylvania, helping farmers there derive an income from protecting their extraordinary mediaeval landscape. Why are there funds to help protect their way of life and their beautiful land when our ancient hill farming culture is going down the pan?
I know DEFRA plans in 2011 or 2012 to “explore and review the opportunities and challenges for the use of payment for ecosystem service approaches, including upland areas”. But may I respectfully suggest that the time for “exploring and reviewing” is over. Action is needed now.