Proposed new rules to ban burning on deep peat are set to leave upland farmers in moorland areas out of pocket.
In July this year, Defra launched a consultation to prohibit burning on all peat more than 40cm deep on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which are also European sites.
Under the new rules, farmers or land managers wanting to carry out burning for restoration or to prevent wildfires would need to apply to Natural England for a licence.
But the plans mean some upland farmers who want to rollover their Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes ahead of Brexit have found themselves unable to do so.
Speaking at an NFU council meeting in Stoneleigh this week, Thomas Binns, the union’s uplands spokesman, warned affected farmers would have to deal with a ‘severe gap’ in their income stream for the next five years, until the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is up and running.
“As these HLS agreements come up for renewal, farmers on areas of deep peat who have not had a plan consented to for a new management regime are precluded from rollover into HLS,” he said.
“This is particularly an issue for tenant farmers, because the underlying consent needs to be agreed by the landowner, so if the landlord does not agree to a new management regime for the moorland, then the tenant is ineligible to be able to get rollover.”
Mr Binns also raised concerns that farmers were being excluded from Countryside Stewardship, and even rural development funding, for the same reason.
He claimed NFU calls for SSSIs and statutory designated areas to be detached from holdings, allowing the rest of the farm to participate in agri-environment schemes, had so far fallen on deaf ears.
“It is quite a perverse outcome,” he said.
“A lot of these farmers are wanting to continue their environmental agreements, but are precluded from doing so.”