AN agricultural group has hit back at claims from new research that suggest traditional farming methods should be halted, with trees planted where sheep now graze.

The suggestions come from a new report by the University of Sheffield that claims British sheep farmers would profit from allowing their grasslands to regenerate into forest.

But these are recommendations that the National Sheep Association (NSA) strongly disagree with.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “The report assumes all sheep farmers are still receiving the old style of subsidy but the reality is that farmers don’t get subsidies anymore. They were withdrawn over 10 years ago with the transition to the basic payment scheme from previous production support. Since then farming businesses have received Government income, but in recognition for keeping land in good environmental and agricultural condition, and for doing specific environmental works through schemes such as Countryside Stewardship. This became a public investment in incentivising and rewarding good environmental land management.

Mr Stocker continues: “To expect sheep farmers to give up farming sheep and plant forests ignores two basic facts; firstly sheep farming is more than just a business, it is part of our culture and heritage and farmers get huge pride and satisfaction from farming sheep; secondly, it’s really easy for scientists to justify the planting of forests through a carbon calculation alone because it is easy to measure how much carbon is in a tree and then apply an offset value. What these scientists ignore is that we have to look at land management on a multi- functional basis, not just one metric of carbon."