UPLAND farming communities are 'on a knife edge', a leading landscape campaigner in Cumbria has claimed.

Douglas Chalmers, director of Friends of the Lake District, said there was 'a lack of understanding' of the uplands by the wider public and he called on the Government to find 'proper mechanisms' to secure hill farming's future.

He spoke out ahead of a Commons adjournment debate on the uplands on Monday, during which Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart, a junior Defra minister, insisted the Government would continue supporting hill farmers whether the UK remained in the European Union or voted to leave.

Mr Chalmers said: “The uplands, such a significant part of our Cumbrian landscape, have been debated for many, many years, and the problems they face not only remain but are becoming more acute.

“On a knife edge sounds so dramatic, but I do not think that this is an overstatement in this case.

“There remains a general lack of understanding of how the uplands work, how much society benefits in so many ways, and of the constraints faced by those who manage these areas.

“They are very special areas, but they should not be thought of as simply areas for farms and tourists. The benefits they provide include food, biodiversity, woodlands, renewable energy, climate change mitigation and both built and cultural heritage.

"Our farmers are getting older, many farming families have no identified successor, and they face economic, political, climatic and environmental constraints.

“Our uplands are a major part of Cumbria’s physical environment, and they are managed to provide many different types of output. It would be impossible to imagine our county if we lost this, and the economic, environmental and social consequences are unthinkable.

“The best and most cost-effective way of managing the Uplands is by our farmers, and we must find mechanisms that properly reward them for all their efforts and help secure their future.”

In the Commons debate, Mr Stewart said no matter what the referendum result, there would always be 'deep support for farmers' from ministers, who would 'take the arguments and bring the public along with us'.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, who is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Hill Farming Group, told the Gazette: " “More must be done to help and support hill farmers.  They have to deal with more and more complex regulations and subsidies at the same time as trying to eke out a living. 

"I regularly make the case to ministers that upland farmers are the stewards of our unique landscape and need to be supported accordingly.  Our tourism sector relies on this landscape and we need to support our farmers.”