MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has warned Ministers hill farmers must be ‘absolutely’ protected after Brexit if the UK is to avoid an environmental disaster.
He says Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s proposals for scrapping cumbersome regulations once Britain leaves the EU will be welcomed by farmers - but the Government must be careful to preserve all those put in place to safeguard hill farmers.
Mrs Leadsom has already announced she plans to save farmers millions of pounds a year by simplifying regulations covering such areas as farm inspections and scrapping unpopular EU measures such as the three-crop rule, telling the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month the move would ‘free up’ British farming.
Farmers remain sceptical, pointing out little has changed since two similar, previous government pledges.
And Mr Liddell-Grainger, Conservative member for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said he fully understood their doubts.
“What we have to realise is that in many instances it is our own civil servants who have taken relatively simple measures handed down from Brussels and assiduously turned them into monstrously complex regulations,” he said.
“If you are going to have a cull of the regulations then logically you need to cull civil servants as well because there won’t be as much work for them to do. But with the civil service any reduction in jobs always seems to be a particularly difficult thing to achieve.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger, whose constituency includes large areas of Exmoor National Park, said the Government needed to be reminded of the importance of upland farming so that regulations offering special support for hill farmers remained in place.
“If you look at the bald figures it’s easy to conclude that hill farming is barely profitable and hardly contributes anything to the annual output of the entire farming sector which in itself only represents a tiny percentage of GDP,” he said.
“But without hill farmers we would be left facing massive environmental problems.
“Historically, upland farming has never been profitable which is why we have had various kinds of support in place for decades. But in return for that support the nation gets its special landscapes kept in superb condition for the benefit of the tourism sector – which is worth somewhere around £130 billion a year to the economy.
“Paying hill farmers for land management is the most cost-effective way of running the national parks – and clearly delivers the ‘environmental goods’ Mrs Leadsom is so keen to see.
“If all the farmers trooped off the hills tomorrow the national park and local authorities simply couldn’t afford to do the work themselves. They would be bankrupt within a month and our most cherished landscapes would start reverting to an unattractive wilderness soon after.
“We cannot run the risk of that happening. Hill farming is a tough, frequently unpleasant occupation where the rewards are often meagre compared with the amount of work and effort involved.
“But we absolutely must continue to acknowledge the skills and dedication of those involved in it by ensuring it delivers them an income.”