FARMERS who are still having their livestock tested for radiation poisoning 24 years after the Chernobyl disaster are still getting the same compensation they received when contamination first hit the Cumbrian fells.

Westmorland and Lonsdale’s MP Tim Farron believes the Rural Payments Agency must give more than the £1.30 it provides per sheep when they need to take animals away to be tested.

The Cumbrian fells were one of the worst hit areas in the country from the fallout after a nuclear reactor at a Russian power plant exploded, with 1,670 county farms placed under restrictions.

Mr Farron has asked Lord Rooker, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, which provides the payments, to increase it in line with inflation to £2.90 a sheep, pointing out that hill farmers earn on average less than £6,000 a year.

He said: “When dealing with the long-term effects of a disaster like Chernobyl, it's vital that the proper safety precautions are taken. But given that the crisis happened over 24 years ago, I'm amazed that the Food Standards Agency has yet to review the current system and look again at the impact this is having on Britain's uplands.

"Hill farmers in South Lakeland earn on average less than £6,000 a year. They don't need another needlessly bureaucratic obstacle that will leave many of them further out of pocket.

"If the FSA maintain that these tests are needed, the Liberal Democrats will immediately increase the level of compensation to ensure there isn't a continued exodus from the hill farming industry."

The disaster released 100 times the amount of radiation of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together, and the heavy rain which followed washed radioactive decay products out of clouds and onto fields.

The radioactive particles were absorbed by plants and grass, and the sheep grazing the land ate radioactive grass.

An FSA spokesman said the number of sheep under restriction in Cumbria was currently 6,600, down from 867,000 in 1986.

She added: “The tests are done whenever the farmers want to move sheep off contaminated land. The restrictions will be in place for as long as necessary.

“Although we have sympathy for the farmers involved, our primary concern is to minimise the risk of food with unacceptable levels of radioactivity getting into the food supply.

"As the levels of radioactivity decrease with time, we will remove restrictions where it can be shown that they aren’t necessary any more.”

A Defra spokesperson said: "The Chernobyl nuclear disaster affected sheep flocks in Cumbria, parts of Wales and Scotland and it's essential that any change to compensation is co-ordinated across Great Britain.

“A majority of sheep in areas still affected by radioactivity are in Wales and we are working with the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Government on whether the current level of compensation is suitable."