A less favoured area
The High Weald is one of the best surviving medieval landscapes in Northern Europe. Conditions favour grass production and livestock enterprises account for 65% of all farms and underpin the farming economy. However the area’s elevation, small fields, low grade soils and poor drainage means the average farm size is 36ha compared to the national average of 81ha; and the average farm income of £16,000 p.a. is less than that of any other farm type and comparable to that for grazing livestock in a Less Favoured Area.
Between 2000 and 2013 the High Weald saw a reduction in livestock numbers of 27%. If that decline continues, then the rural jobs, skills and services, and the infrastructure that is essential for viable livestock agriculture, such as markets, colleges and abattoirs, will decline with it. Ultimately the medieval landscape of woodland with small fields dominated by pasture will be more difficult and more expensive to maintain, if not managed as a co-product of a viable agricultural sector. The decline in livestock numbers is therefore a serious concern to landscape, the rural economy, and job opportunities for farmers of the future.
The Restocking the Weald project is underpinned by two studies (see below). The reports are based on interviews, primarily with landowners and start-up farmers, and supplemented with economic modelling. They set out the causes of de-stocking, analyse the area’s capacity to ‘restock’ and conclude that there are opportunities for enterprising livestock farmers to run viable businesses without having to overcome the huge barrier of land ownership, thereby reversing the de-stocking trend. The reports set out the mechanism and success factors by which viability can be achieved.
The project is being driven by an interdisciplinary partnership between: the High Weald AONB Partnership, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), land agents - CLM and Batcheller Monkhouse, Plumpton College, Natural England and farmers from the area; with financial support from Kent County Council, East Sussex County Council and Defra. The facts, analysis and recommendations have attracted support from many quarters including The Prince’s Charities’ International Sustainability Unit, directors of the NFU and CLA and the Future of Farming Review Group.
If you would like to know more about the project and its evidence base, please contact Jason Lavender 01424 723008.