I recently met two Dales farmers who told me how new ways of working are helping them sustain their farms and improve the landscape.
I was at West Witton in Wensleydale with my Government colleague Farming Minister Victoria Prentis to talk to Paul Hunter and Caroline Harrison about their experiences of a pilot farm support scheme which is helping to create our post-EU farm payment system.
Under this scheme in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the farmers get paid for conserving either traditional hay meadows or habitat for wading birds such as curlew.
It is one of 67 trial schemes around England covering the complete range of farm types. These schemes will, over the next seven years, replace the old EU-designed Basic Payment and Countryside Stewardship systems.
Also known as payment by results (PBR), this approach differs from traditional agri-environment schemes because there are no management prescriptions and better results mean landowners receive a higher payment.
One of the benefits Victoria and I were really pleased to hear about was the reduced bureaucracy and form-filling. I know this has been a real burden for many farmers over many years and diverts their time and effort from what they should be doing which is producing the top-quality produce the British consumer values.
I vividly recall sitting down with a farmer a few years back and going through his Countryside Stewardship application form with him. It was a massive tome and thoroughly daunting.
But I was shown the “score sheet” used by Paul to assess how the diversity of his meadow is improving and it ran to just three pages. That’s a real step forward because we want farmers like Paul and Caroline tending their land and their livestock, not ticking boxes.
We want a farm support system that gives farmers the control to use their experience to achieve the environmental and wildlife benefits we all desire rather than laying down a prescriptive straitjacket of rules and regulations which don’t necessarily take account of individual farm circumstances.
These trial schemes will contribute to the design of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) system – the future payment mechanism for environmental enhancement in rural areas.
And as well as providing the support farmers in hill areas like the Dales need to run viable and sustainable operations, ELM will make a huge contribution to maintaining and improving the way our countryside looks which is crucial to the prosperity of rural areas.
It’s a point I’ve made before and am happy to make again. The panoramic views of the Dales we all enjoy are only maintained by the hard work of Paul, Caroline and their farming colleagues. Rewarding them for looking after it – nature-friendly farming as I see it – is the right thing to do.
It was great that he NHS Spitfire managed to make the flypast over the Friarage and James Cook last week after the delay caused by poor weather.
What a fitting tribute it was that this iconic gem of British engineering and an historic symbol of the nation coming together at a time of crisis should acknowledge the immense contributions of staff at our two local hospitals.
The names of thousands of NHS heroes are handwritten on the fuselage of the aircraft – including that of Doreen Eaton, the Friarage Hospital nurse who has given a lifetime of service to the NHS and who I had the privilege of meeting in the summer at the opening of the hospital’s new eye department.