No one knows what the government's agriculture policy will be post-Brexit, but a working group of Dales farmers hopes to be able to influence policy surrounding upland farming. Lesley Tate reports.

A WORKING party of Dales farmers is to be set up as part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority's attempts to influence government policy on agriculture post Brexit.

With negotiations between the government and Europe underway, the national park authority has committed itself to bringing forward detailed proposals for upland farming in the Dales by the end of the year.

Chief executive, David Butterworth, told the authority’s annual meeting in Bainbridge, that now was the time to seek to influence the government’s policy on agriculture post-Brexit.

And he said farming was critical to the dales and to the fundamental aims of the national park.

He described farming as a “critical industry” to the dales and said the starting point should be to set an “extremely ambitious” target of retaining the present number of farm holdings in the national park, which includes large parts of Craven.

Members agreed to set up a formal working group, made up largely of Dales farmers, to develop proposals for new farm payment and agri-environment schemes.

Mr Butterworth said: “The Brexit negotiations have begun. The day when the government puts in place a new agricultural policy for England is getting nearer. We need to make sure that the voice of Dales farmers is heard. One thing is for sure: a one-sized-fits-all policy will not work for us."

Now was a time of great uncertainty for many farmers, he said.

“As they do more than anyone to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the national park, it is an uncertain time for the authority, too. However, Brexit does represent a significant opportunity to improve the profitability of farming and the environmental outputs that are so critical to achieving our statutory purposes.”

The working group will be made up of six people: Chairman, and member champion for natural environment, Ian McPherson; chairman of the national park, Carl Lis; member champion for cultural heritage, Julie Martin; dales farmer, Allen Kirkbride, dales farmer and member champion for sustainable development, Chris Clark, and dales farmer, Neil Heseltine, who farms in Malhamdale.

The group will draw inspiration from a policy discussion paper put together by National Parks England earlier this year, and submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The paper said it was vital that new English farming policy should include “locally-led agri-environment schemes”.

Chairman, Ian McPherson, said: “The future of existing agri-environmental schemes is extremely uncertain. Many solutions are being considered both at a national and local level.

“This is a critical time for the future of uplands farming and it is hoped that the Authority, working with partners, can play a leading role in helping to shape the future of a balanced agricultural and environmental policy for our area.”

The national park, recently voted the nation's favourite in BBC Countryfile magazine, has two main purposes - to 'conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage' and 'to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the national park'.

In carrying out these purposes, the authority has a duty to 'seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities.'.

All of its work is guided by the vision for the future of the National Park set out in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan.