A CLIMATE change report which warned of threats to food production has strengthened the case for hill farming, according to a top sheep expert.

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said calls to de-stock and re-wild the uplands by environmentalists like George Monbiot have now been undermined by the UN’s Independent Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study.

“The panel has concluded that globally climate change is already having real effects with heat waves, wildfires, heavy rain and mega-disasters,” said Mr Stocker. “The warning signs about climate change have been accumulating over time but this is the first time the IPCC has drawn a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity and conflict.”

“Here in the UK we don’t need much reminding of the volatile weather we have experienced over recent years – most recently with devastating flooding and rainfall for most of the winter. This IPCC report means we have the evidence needed to ensure our hills and uplands maintain their capability to contribute to food security. This means keeping the people with the knowledge and experience in place and giving them the incentives to step up their productivity and play their part in optimising land use.

“Who knows what will happen over future decades and how extreme some of these changes in weather may be, but it seems to me that if we lose some of the productivity of our lowlands due to flooding, and that drought becomes another serious limiting factor, then our uplands with their higher rainfall pattern will be crucial to us for food security.

“It doesn’t have to be either food production or the environment – we have to achieve the optimum balance of the two on all our land.”

Cumbrian farmer and European Parliament Tory candidate Kevin Beaty echoed Mr Stocker’s views.

“It is quite clear from the UN climate change report that there are challenging times ahead for us all,” said Mr Beaty. “As a farmer I can see that our industry will be at the forefront of the climate change agenda.

“The UN report highlights some of the different opinions and contradictions that farmers in Cumbria will have to deal with as the arguments on how to deal with the climate change threat develop.”