NATURE-friendly farmers in Cumbria are warning that the agricultural transition to new support schemes is in danger of leaving them behind.

The farmers are so concerned they have sent a letter to their MPs claiming upland farms are finding it difficult to access higher-tier support schemes in a campaign co-ordinated by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN).

Upland farms, it is claimed, can do a huge amount in efforts to continue producing food and ensure agricultural businesses are profitable while also tackling threats such as the climate and biodiversity crises.

However, the farmers are warning that the number of farms being supported through higher-tier schemes is actually declining rapidly, with 80 per cent fewer agreements being struck than was the case a decade ago.

Cumbrian dairy farmer James Robinson highlighted this issue earlier this year with a petition which attracted thousands of signatures. Now his demands that MPs look again at the problem are being supported by letters signed by farmers in constituencies where upland agriculture is particularly significant economically.

The letter states the farmers were supportive of a move towards a system based around public goods for public money, saying this should reward them better for the numerous benefits their land can provide. The farmers say financial support that assists the restoration of peatlands, creation of woodlands or management of carbon-rich grasslands is vital for sustaining incomes in upland and marginal landscapes.

However, the number of farms being accepted into higher tier schemes is plummeting, the letter warns. This summer “only a handful” of agricultural businesses were successful in their applications.

“This is unacceptable, it is claimed. It risks putting the farms best placed to provide the highest quality public goods out of business, undermining the ability to help meet the country’s climate and nature targets.

“Left unaddressed, this would represent a deep betrayal at a time when many of us farmers are struggling to cope with sky-high inflation, extreme weather and a rapidly falling Basic Payment Scheme. We need action before it’s too late, to get the support that we urgently need to safeguard our businesses while contributing to nature’s recovery and net zero in the process,”says the letter.

Farmers want MPs in upland constituencies to recognise the role nature-friendly farms can play.