LISTEN TO THE LOCAL EXPERTS: Ewan Allinson describes the knowledge he gathered through talking to farmers
LISTEN TO THE LOCAL EXPERTS: Ewan Allinson describes the knowledge he gathered through talking to farmers

ENVIRONMENTAL schemes are failing because they don’t take into account farmers’ local knowledge, it has been claimed.

Hefted to Hill, a new project led by Northern Heartlands, was the subject of a seminar in Stanhope last week as part of a bid to stimulate discussion on changing the way agri-environment policies are drawn up.

Among those attending were representatives of Natural England, the RSPB, Newcastle University and other groups with interests in the countryside.

The project saw lead artist Ewan Allinson talking to a group of seven farmers about their views on land management.

He told the conference: “The problem, as I see it, is that we have farmers who know a massive amount about the countryside, they are professors of the of the countryside, and yet agri-environmental policy treats farmers as if they are in the way.

“The real solution to better agri-environment schemes is to not hem farming in.”

He added: “Often steps taken to increase bio-diversity have been wrong-headed. The application of science has no local sensitivity and is just driven through.

“It is a philosophical problem. It is about how you value who knows what about what. And we have inherited this idea that only experts who are trained, and have some distance, have proper knowledge and that really needs to be challenged.”

He added that artists are in a unique position where they can talk to and understand those at grass root level as well as influencing those at the top making policies.

The seminar also heard from Cockfield shepherdess Joanne Bainbridge who described some of the challenges facing farm businesses.

She said huge changes had taken place over the past 20 years which have seen farmers needing to complete large amounts of paperwork.

She added: “I personally find it hard to keep track sometimes, this creates a lot of stress and worry.

“I am finding that on top of being a farmer I need to be a secretary, accountant, vet and farm manager.”

She called for schemes to be locally led because farming varies in different parts of the country.

That sentiment was echoed by the dale’s largest landowner Lord Barnard who, although unable to attend, had sent a message.

He said: “No two upland farms are the same.

“Some purely concentrate on their farming business, others generally have high nature farming as a priority, others are somewhere in-between. Either way they are bound to have a great insight into the land they occupy, which no prescriptive-based approach can match.

“However good the stewardship advisor on the ground, a prescriptive one-size catch all approach is bound to be a fairly blunt tool where conditions vary.

“There is a world of difference in climate and growing season even between Middleton-in-Teesdale and High Force, Forest-in-Teesdale to Langdon Beck and to above Harwood.”

Others who spoke at the conference were Brendan O’Hanrahan who spoke about his experience with the Scottish crofters and renowned botanist Dr Margaret Bradshaw who spoke about the uniqueness of Teesdale’s flora.