SERIOUS concerns over the impact of Brexit on sheep farming are growing as the date set for the UK’s departure from the EU looms large.

And the vital importance of an agreement to ensure tariffs are not placed on lamb exports from the region has been emphasised by local sheep farmers as negotiations reach a vital stage.

“There’s no argument that the European market is absolutely critical for sheep farmers,” said Will Cockbain, chairman of the Swaledale Sheep Breeders’ Association and former NFU uplands farming spokesman.

“We need to reach an agreement for no tariffs and it would be a disaster without an agreement.

“It’s a worrying time and we are very concerned about the situation.”

And Westmorland Conservative group leader Cllr James Airey, who is himself a sheep farmer, echoed the view that an agreement needs to be reached.

“Lamb exports to Europe are hugely important for farmers in this area and we need to get the best deal possible,” said Cllr Airey.

“It’s my understanding that a deal on lamb exports is high on the Government’s agenda and we really need to make sure tariffs are not put on British lamb exports.

“The priority now is to get a Brexit deal agreed and ensure there is no delay so that we have some certainty and we can plan ahead.”

MP Tim Farron said his own concerns have deepened after a Liberal Democrat freedom of information request to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed the department did not hold any information or documents relating to an assessment of the impact of Brexit on sheep farming.

“British hill farming is about to see the biggest change for a generation and so the fact that the Government has yet to conduct a single impact assessment on what might happen is absolutely staggering,” said the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP.

“Whatever side of the fence you were on in the referendum, this is irresponsibility of titanic proportions.

“The truth is that the Conservatives are too busy fighting with each other to fight for the best interest of our country.

“Our farmers deserve better than this.”

However, Cllr Airey said it was “almost impossible” for DEFRA to come up with a proper assessment given the current situation, in which Brexit uncertainty was an added problem at what was already a testing time for UK farmers.

“What we need is a deal to be sorted as soon as possible so we can start looking at our strategy,” he said.

“Farmers are getting on with their business but they are still under pressure following last year’s dry summer which has pushed up animal feed prices.

“There’s no doubt this is not an easy time for agriculture.”