National Sheep Association calls out former Defra representative for 'incorrect and damaging' statement on UK sheep farming
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The NSA believes the comments demonstrated “a naive and uneducated view on a vital sector in the uplands”.
In a lengthy tweet posted earlier this week, Mr Goldsmith said: “The unavoidable truth is that sheep are the principal obstacle standing in the way of meaningful nature recovery in Britain’s national parks and other agriculturally marginal landscapes. There is no getting around it. The sheep have got to go.”
The tweet also stated: “Sheep are not native to Britain. They come from the arid hills of Asia Minor. They must suffer terribly soaked through and exposed on our windy, wet hillsides year-round. The fact that even English acorns are toxic to sheep says it all.
"Britons don’t eat much lamb or mutton. So why are our landscapes stuffed with sheep? Sheep farming is in economic terms hopelessly non-viable, propped up solely with taxpayer subsidies. The average age of sheep farmers creeps ever higher, while their net income (including subsidies) creeps ever lower. There are no winners, only losers.”
In response, NSA is defending the “valuable role” that sheep have in the UK’s countryside.
NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, commented: “Sheep have been in the British Isles since the Neolithic settlers landed on our shores around 3000BC- 5000 years ago. They have created and maintained some of the most loved landscapes we see and enjoy today including nine of England’s 13 National Parks that are situated in upland areas. It is no accident that most of our National Parks are in areas predominated for generations by grassland and sheep.
“The unique environment, working for most times in harmony with sheep farming, is highly valuable in relation to water management and quality, carbon sequestration, and nature, and provides people with social and health benefits.”
NSA concedes there may have been a time when UK farming solely focussed on production but, increasingly, the industry has moved to farming practices that consider the wider environment and how agriculture plays a positive role in the maintenance of this.
Sheep farming in all corners of the UK is practiced with an appreciation for the environment in which it takes place. In 2021 there was a 40 per cent increase in demand and applications for Countryside Stewardship – a scheme providing financial incentives for farmers looking after and improving the environment - evidence, therefore, of sheep farming’s intent to continue the valuable environmental role it has had for so many years.
More than 40,000 farmers in England now participate in either Countryside Stewardship or legacy Higher-Level Stewardship schemes.
Mr Stocker continued: “Both the Countryside Stewardship schemes, HLS, and the new Environmental Land Management schemes have the environment and nature at their heart, ensuring the wildlife of Britain has increasingly improving habitats. The success of many of our native wildlife lifecycles are directly linked to livestock grazing providing food, nutrients, and a favourable environment.”
Mr Stocker concluded: “NSA is incredibly disappointed that senior officials and Defra representatives can, at times, be ignorant to the benefits of grazing animals and the value of British produce and strongly urge the Department to ensure an improved understanding of those who would benefit from a better appreciation of this.”