HUNDREDS of years of upland management is in jeopardy, according to the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA).

Ken Lumley, North-East regional chairman, said the marginalisation of farming was damaging the landscape and biodiversity of the uplands.

Speaking on the eve of this week’s North Sheep 2011 at West Nubbock Farm, Hexham, he said many people mistakenly believed the uplands had just happened and were best left to nature.

“In fact, they have been managed carefully by land managers for centuries,” he said.

“Not only are farmers responsible for the stone walls, field barns, hedgerows and field patterns displayed in the uplands, it is through grazing that the heather and grass moorlands and the fragile ecosystems thrive.”

Mr Lumley said the importance of farming in the uplands had been downgraded over recent years. The fact agri-environment schemes had required farmers to remove livestock from the hills contributed to the problem.

“Allowing landlords to benefit from these schemes at the expense of their tenants is also causing a problem,” he said. “The importance of tenants and their livestock has been downplayed.”

An obvious result of reduced stocking levels had been the “massive explosion” of bracken, something which had also been a major contributory factor in the recent wildfires which had broken out during the very dry spring.

“The mass of dry vegetation allowed those fires to become quickly out of control,” he said.

“We need again to value and nurture stockmanship for the future of our upland areas. Livestock farming provides the most reliable and coherent basis upon which the management of these most beautiful, and yet fragile, landscapes and ecology will be sustained.”

Mr Lumley said the concept of balanced management had been disregarded for too long.

He said: “In the past, this was displayed in an uncontrolled subsidy system, which in some areas caused overgrazing but we have now leapt to a situation where it would appear that grazing management is not valued at all”

The remoteness of uplands helps to protect them – greater access increases the risk of damage, such as through fires.

Mr Lumley said he was not advocating the uplands should be locked away. “But we should look to more managed access in consultation with those who live on, and work, the land and rely less on open access by the public without involvement of the farming community,” he said.