A SHEEP industry boss claims landowners are 'asset stripping' the uplands by ending livestock farm holdings in favour of environmental schemes.

The single-focus nature of environmental stewardship schemes means the traditional role of tenanted farms in upland areas is gradually being dismantled and the future for young sheep farmers jeopardised, said National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker.

He spoke out after the NSA joined with the Tenant Farmers' Association to highlight an increasingly 'worrying trend' of short-term farm business tenancies (FBTs) not being renewed in upland areas such as the Lake District and the Dales.

Instead, landlords are putting eligible ground into environmental stewardship schemes, which often exclude grazing livestock, especially sheep, with the remaining areas being offered on annual grazing agreements and houses and buildings let separately.

Mr Stocker said: “While this type of asset stripping exercise might be a sound business move for landowners, it leaves tenants approaching the end of their agreement with an uncertain future.

"Displaced tenants, faced with little option, are forced to disperse their flocks. Land that has been a single, often highly-regarded farm unit for many years is no more and the infrastructure of upland farming becomes gradually dismantled. Our industry is crying out for young people, but it is very difficult to encourage them in when faced with this permanent breakup of so many productive livestock units.”

TFA chief executive George Dunn said: "The Government needs to make a decision about whether it wants to support productive farms in the hands of hard-working tenant farmers, delivering both for food security and environmental management, or whether it wants to line the pockets of private land owners who are interested only in commercial gain and deliver little in return for the stewardship payments and generous tax breaks they receive.

"Both TFA and NSA believe that only truly active farmers should have access to payments to assist with producing environmental benefits on farmland.”