Pioneering conservation scheme comes to an end

The last agreement in the North York Moors National Park’s Farm Scheme has come to an end bringing to a close a pioneering initiative that has had a big impact on the area’s landscape and wildlife.

In taking a whole farm approach, the North York Moors Farm Scheme regarded the landscape, wildlife and recreation value of a farmer’s land as an income asset in the same way as food production. It was far-sighted and had a significant influence on the development of agri-environment policy in England and Wales. Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Schemes used the North York Moors Farm Scheme as an example of best practice.

The majority of the farms involved in the Farm Scheme have now been transferred to Natural England’s stewardship schemes. The National Park will supplement this funding with smaller grants for farmers and land managers such as its Traditional Boundary Scheme for drystone walling and hedgerow restoration/planting.

Original ten farm scheme farmers from Farndale

Original ten farm scheme farmers from Farndale

The Farm Scheme launched in 1990 with a budget of £50,000 and initially worked with ten farms in Farndale. It offered grants and support to farmers in the North York Moors for maintaining and introducing traditional boundaries such as stone walls and hedges, woodland, hay meadows and for repairing traditional buildings. At its peak in the late 1990s, there were 113 Farm Scheme Agreements and a budget of nearly £450,000.

David Curry MP planting a hedge to launch the Farm Scheme in 1990

David Curry MP planting a hedge to launch the Farm Scheme in 1990

David Renwick, Director of Conservation, at the North York Moors National Park Authority said:

The Farm Scheme was set up at a time of great debate about the impact of modern farming on the environment. It sought to encourage sensitive land management while maintaining farm viability, particularly the traditional family farms typical of upland areas.

“Its achievements are there for all to see on the ground in the North York Moors – Farndale for example, owes much of its unspoilt beauty to the scheme. But what it also brought is a good working relationship between the National Park and those who farm here. This is an important legacy and one we will do our utmost to maintain.”

Through the Farm Scheme, farmers in the National Park have:

• restored 81.4 kilometres of hedgerow

• restored 40.4 kilometres of wall, resulting in 210 kilometres of wall in good condition

• repaired 140 traditional buildings

• recorded 3097 archaeological features

• planted over 14,000 broadleaved trees

Mark Carter from Overend Farm in Rosedale was in the scheme for 20 years. He said:

When we bought 60 acres of neighbouring land that was in a bad state of affairs, grants from the Farm Scheme enabled us to build and repair walls and fences to make the land sheep and cattle proof. It’s enabled us to expand our business and looks really good now. I hope that funding continues for maintaining walls, hedges and the like.”

The National Park Authority continues to work with farmers, including through a new scheme that offers grants for work to improve the value of existing habitat and increase connections between isolated patches. Defra is currently developing a new agri-environment scheme to take the place of Environmental Stewardship.

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