A ‘DISAPPOINTING’ response from the Government has sounded the alarm over whether upland farmers and commoners will have a future during Brexit transition.

The Foundation for Common Land (FCL) has highlighted ongoing concerns about the viability of upland farmers and commoners during the transition away from direct support in England.

Their fears were expressed after receiving a response to a letter they sent to the Prime Minister last year, in which they warned of an ‘impending car crash’ which will leave 14,000 farms at risk of being loss making or earning less than half the national minimum wage by 2024, when direct payments will have been slashed by 50 per cent.

In their letter, the FCL requested that the Government model the impact on commoners and upland agricultural businesses of the transition away from the Basic Payment Scheme.

Dr Julia Aglionby, executive director of the FCL, and Armathwaite farmer said: “They have not answered that question at all. We want to know how many upland farms will go bankrupt before the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is available to all; what take-up ELM is expected to get and what farm incomes will look like under ELM.

“These findings should be made available to wider stakeholders and the public. They have ignored that. That was our one request and they ignored it.”

Dr Aglionby also criticised Defra Secretary George Eustice, who responded to the FCL’s letter on the Prime Minister’s behalf, for appearing to water down earlier commitments to move away from income foregone payments under ELM.

Mr Eustice acknowledged income foregone methodology had limitations, adding "as we pilot and expand the components of ELM, we will be able to test and learn to ensure the best approach to ensuring the high levels of uptake we both want to see".

Dr Aglionby said: “We know it is income foregone at the moment – we have all accepted that – but there is no clarity that they actually have an alternative approach.They are not testing any alternative payment rates. The Sustainable Farming Incentive test is using income foregone, so I do not understand how they are going to try out different approaches to paying people.They need to be having these discussions now.”

The FCL did, however, welcome a commitment from Mr Eustice in the letter to launch a fund, expected to be about £52m over three years, to help farmers in protected landscapes from 2021. The money will be used to help farmers work with their national park or AONB.