Last week I received a letter from Natural England.
As some of you maybe aware we were refused Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) when our Countryside Stewardship agreement ended almost two years ago; this despite the fact the farm, a county wildlife site, heaves with wildlife.
Briefly, for those of you new to my blog, I was not a happy bunny and set about trying to find out the reason why we’d been refused. It may appear trivial to some but an HLS agreement is gold dust on marginal lands. Locks Park never has, and never will be, a profitable cereal/intensive livestock farm; our cold waterlogged inhospitable clay soils sees to that. What Locks Park is able to do is generate a profusion of nature, support a herd of native, indigenous Red Ruby Devon cattle, a flock of Whiteface Dartmoor sheep and produce superb beef and lamb. It is also used to train and teach people a variety of different management skills for those interested in farming – or those who advise farmers, with the environment, wildlife and a quality product in mind.
Bristling with indignation, I bristled even more when I found there was an astonishing pot of money available for HLS agreements and yet there were a large number of smaller farms up and down the country in a similar situation to us. Why? An administrative cock up! It was easier to award those huge highly productive estates and pension fund farms an additional sugar-sweet honey pot rather than work at putting the money where it was most needed (and would be best used for the environmental benefits for which it was intended), to those thousands of marginal family farms trying to eke a out a living and all too willing to do their bit for the environment.
I made a noise. We reapplied. We were turned down again. Flabbergasted I tackled Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive. The mountain quivered; a small hot stream of lava erupted. I thought we’d blown our bridges. We held our breath. Specialists were sent in to re-evaluate our farm a couple of months ago…
…And last week I received a letter from Natural England.
For those of you not quite sure what it’s actually saying (I wasn’t) – here’s the punch line.
Yes, yes yes! It looks as if we’ve got it! Bang on the floor! Whistle, clap! Open a bottle, jump up and down! Hoorah!