The National Sheep Association (NSA) is exasperated by comments made by former Defra Board member Ben Goldsmith attacking UK sheep farming, demonstrating what NSA believes to be a naive and uneducated view on a vital sector in the uplands.
Responding to a piece by Mr Goldsmith in the Independent newspaper on Wednesday 15th March NSA defends the valuable role that sheep have in the UK’s countryside.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said, “Sheep have been in the British Isles since the Neolithic settlers landed on our shores around 3000BC- 5000 years ago. They have created and maintained some of the most loved landscapes we see and enjoy today including nine of England’s 13 National Parks that are situated in upland areas. It is no accident that most of our National Parks are in areas predominated for generations by grassland and sheep.
“The unique environment, working for most times in harmony with sheep farming, is highly valuable in relation to water management and quality, carbon sequestration, and nature, and provides people with social and health benefits.”
NSA concedes there may have been a time when UK farming solely focussed on production but increasingly the industry has moved to farming practices that consider the wider environment and how agriculture plays a positive role in the maintenance of this.
Sheep farming, now, in all corners of the UK is practiced with an appreciation for the environment in which it takes place. In 2021 there was a 40% increase in demand and applications for Countryside Stewardship, a scheme providing financial incentives for farmers looking after and improving the environment, evidence therefore, of sheep farming’s intent to continue the valuable environmental role it has had for so many years. More than 40,000 farmers in England now participate in either Countryside Stewardship or legacy Higher-Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes.
Stocker added, “Both the Countryside Stewardship schemes, HLS, and the new Environmental Land Management schemes have the environment and nature at their heart, ensuring the wildlife of Britain has increasingly improving habitats. The success of many of our native wildlife lifecycles are directly linked to livestock grazing providing food, nutrients, and a favourable environment.”
53% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) land is located in the UK’s uplands, with 96% of those areas being in favourable or recovering condition. Upland farmers have long managed these landscapes and since being consulted many of these areas are now flourishing. Appropriate grazing is key to conserving many priority habitats such as limestone grassland and upland heath.
Stocker concluded, “NSA is incredibly disappointed that senior officials and Defra representatives can at times be ignorant to the benefits of grazing animals and the value of British produce and strongly urge the Department to ensure an improved understanding of those who would benefit from a better appreciation of this.”