The new Northern Hill Farming Panel is a farmer-led initiative to address the challenges faced by those that farm the northern uplands.

It was formed with support from the Northumberland National Park Authority, Yorkshire Dales National Park and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in the North Pennines, Forest of Bowland and Nidderdale.

The panel will seek to represent hill farmers in discussions with Government ministers and officials on how they can help foster a more sustainable future for farming in the northern uplands and better communicate the vital role hill farming plays in society, from maintaining beautiful landscapes, wildlife and clean water to providing flood management, carbon storage and food.

Early issues it will consider include the implications of the EU referendum result on financial support for hill farmers, agri-environment schemes and farm subsidies on which upland farms heavily depend, and the implementation and limitations of the new Countryside Stewardship scheme.

As part of a collaborative project on High Nature Value Farming (HNV), the Protected Landscapes which form the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership contracted John Waldon of the South West Uplands Federation to provide advice and guidance on setting up the farmer panel.

He spent a number of months speaking with farmers across the area, including Northumberland National Park, gathering views on how it might benefit and operate. 

Stuart Nelson from Low Bleakhope Farm in The Cheviots is one of the farmers from Northumberland National Park who has been involved in setting up the panel.

Stuart Nelson said: “This is all about trying to make a better future for ourselves and to give hill farmers a voice in shaping the future of the industry.

“We know the hills that we live and work in better than anyone else, which makes us best placed to influence how hill farming moves forward, and how best to find a balance between farming and managing the landscape for generations to come in order to keep our hill communities alive.”

Mary Gough, Farming Officer for Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Our cherished protected landscapes, including Northumberland National Park have been shaped by farming over the centuries. The beautiful views, special wildlife, cultural heritage and local communities of the National Park are intimately linked to land management.

“I am delighted that farmers from Northumberland National Park are joining others from across the northern uplands to influence the future of these special areas. By working together over such a large part of the countryside we will hopefully be able to achieve more for everyone who benefits from the uplands.”

Northumberland National Park Authority is supporting farmers within the National Park to set up a local network to give as many farmers as possible the opportunity to be involved in discussing topics and developing projects relevant to them. This local Northumberland network will have the opportunity to feed directly into the new Northern Hill Farming Panel, currently chaired by Richard Betton, a hill farmer from Upper Teesdale.

Mary Gough added: “All farmers within these five protected landscapes are able to support the work of the panel. Local meetings will be arranged to enable this to happen. We would like to invite anybody farming in the National Park who would like to be involved in either the Northumberland National Park farmer group or Northern Hill Farming Panel to contact us by email at farming@nnpa.org.uk.”