Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Shift to New Scheme Is Not without Problems

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Shift to New Scheme Is Not without Problems

Article excerpt

Byline: WILLIAM GREEN

HILL farming is to undergo a seismic shift with the present Hill Farming Allowance (HFA) being replaced by a new scheme, the Uplands Entry Level Scheme (UELS).

According to Natural England, the UELS will mean that hill farmers can continue their good work linking food production and the healthy natural environment.

The scheme effectively severs the link between production and support, replacing it with a new requirement for the management of the uplands for maintenance and the environment. The UELS is a whole farm scheme - those claiming under it will need to register all of their eligible land, as opposed to the HFA where farmers had to register only 10 hectares of qualifying land and stock it at more than a prescribed density with eligible animals.

Even more significantly, farmers will need to have the land in question at their disposal for a full five years to be eligible.

Land currently subject to a Countryside Stewardship Agreement (or an Environmentally Sensitive Area Agreement) will not qualify, but there is a suggestion of an uplands transitional payment to bridge this gap. Those with grazing rights on common land will not be entitled to include that land in their UELS - but this is not a blanket prohibition and there is a suggestion that exceptional circumstances may allow such grazing rights on common land to be considered. I suspect that these rights will once again cause problems in the running of the latest scheme.

However, the biggest stumbling block from a legal perspective is the necessity for the new arrangements to be for five years. The applicant must have management control over the land for that five years. Obviously this causes no problems to the owner/occupier. Long-term tenants also qualify and, thankfully, it has been agreed that anyone holding a tenancy under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 will be treated as falling within that category (despite the fact that, on paper at least, these are merely yearly tenancies).

That does leave the other arrangements for the occupation of land with a good number of question marks hanging over them. So where the farmer takes the benefit of a licence of any description - grazing or the like - it seems it will have to be the landowner who has management for the purposes of the UELS. …

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