THE head of the National Trust was in Cumbria today to promote the organisation’s plans to invest in the future of farming in the Lake District, working with industry experts, partners and tenant farmers. The conservation charity has been associated with farming in the Lakes for over a century.
The Trust owns 44,578 hectares of land in the Lake District, almost one fifth of all the land in its care and 42,500 hectares is used for agriculture. This includes 92 Trust farms, of which 54 are fell farms, and a landlord’s flock of over 21,000 mainly Herdwick sheep; and all sitting within a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which recognises the cultural tradition of farming – and attracts millions of visitors every year.
The National Trust’s Director General Hilary McGrady said: “Our Lakes Future Farming Programme will see us investing in our farmhouses and infrastructure and helping to create opportunities for farm business diversification. It is also about supporting and developing a pipeline of new farm entrants with the skills, aptitude and adaptability to take on farm tenancies when they become vacant. Research is another key area where we will form partnerships to invest in robust, quality information to help make sure farms are good for land, nature and people.
“Ultimately it’s about financially stable and viable farms where wildlife flourishes, soils are healthier and the land is more robust in the face of climate change, all the while sustaining the globally significant attributes that make the Lake District a World Heritage Site,” added Hilary McGrady.
The Director General says the Trust can learn from its tenants and their views are encouraged and sought out. She said: “There are some great examples of farmers responding to a number of challenges from tenants who continue to diversify their business, whilst remaining true to a shared conservation ethos, to others who are adapting their grazing practice to allow species to flourish like the county flower, the Grass of Parnassus. Tenants are also getting involved in projects to slow the flow of water through the landscape to benefit people and nature and provide an income stream.
“We know our countryside can do so much more than provide high quality food. As we look to the future there’s an increasing need – and demand – to dial up our focus on other products farms can produce from healthy soils to providing better homes for nature.
“It is tough right now but there will be opportunities for farmers to benefit from new markets, from locking up carbon to providing cleaner water. We have also been heartened by new people coming forward to take on our farms with six re-let in the last year,” added Hilary McGrady.
The National Trust’s future farming programme will be headed up by a new dedicated manager. The search is on for a skilled individual, who will take up a senior leadership role managing a small team and a multi-million pound budget, to develop a sustainable future for the charity’s farms at a time of unprecedented change.