The Restocking the Weald project encouraged and supported the establishment of viable new livestock enterprises on under-utilised pasture across multiple land holdings. Ultimately it was designed to improve the productivity and management of the High Weald, a nationally-important landscape.
The project aimed to:
- assist new farm entrants and livestock enterprises find pasture by pairing up start-up farmers with non-farming landowners
- encourage non-farming landowners to become more proactive in managing their land; and
- provide practical support with aggregating land, improving infrastructure, tenure arrangements and skills mentoring and training.
The project was a partnership between the High Weald AONB Partnership, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), land agents - CLM and Batcheller Monkhouse, Plumpton College, Natural England and farmers from the area; with financial support from Kent County Council, East Sussex County Council and Defra.
The facts, analysis and recommendations attracted support from many quarters including The Prince’s Charities’ International Sustainability Unit, directors of the NFU and CLA and the Future of Farming Review Group.
Restocking background - A less favoured area
The High Weald is one of the best surviving medieval landscapes in Northern Europe. Conditions favour grass production and livestock enterprises account for 65% of all farms and underpin the farming economy.
However the area’s elevation, small fields, low grade soils and poor drainage means the average farm size is 36ha compared to the national average of 81ha; and the average farm income of £16,000 p.a. is less than that of any other farm type and comparable to that for grazing livestock in a Less Favoured Area.
Between 2000 and 2013 the High Weald saw a reduction in livestock numbers of 27%. If that decline continues, then the rural jobs, skills and services, and the infrastructure that is essential for viable livestock agriculture, such as markets, colleges and abattoirs, will decline with it.
Ultimately the medieval landscape of woodland with small fields dominated by pasture will be more difficult and more expensive to maintain, if not managed as a co-product of a viable agricultural sector. The decline in livestock numbers is therefore a serious concern to landscape, the rural economy, and job opportunities for farmers of the future.
The Restocking the Weald project was underpinned by two studies (see below). The reports are based on interviews, primarily with landowners and start-up farmers, and supplemented with economic modelling. They set out the causes of de-stocking, analyse the area’s capacity to ‘restock’ and conclude that there are opportunities for enterprising livestock farmers to run viable businesses without having to overcome the huge barrier of land ownership, thereby reversing the de-stocking trend. The reports set out the mechanism and success factors by which viability can be achieved.
Benefits for non-farming landowners and graziers
Many start-up farmers struggle to find grazing. This is predominantly down to the financial barrier of the price of land and the greater ability of well-established commercial farmers to rent the larger blocks of land, leaving the smaller start-up graziers searching for any grazing local to them.
Many landowners are approached by farmers looking for grazing and then go on to experience problems such as not being able to get hold of the grazier, non-payment of rent and lack of care of the ground.
The Restocking Project aimed to help pair up start-up farmers with non-farming landowners, with a key focus on building relationships as well as providing specific advice on land tenure, tax implications and how to conserve the High Weald landscape.
The Restocking Project Team:
- Assisted landowners with finding a grazier and vice-versa
- Helped work out a fair and reasonable income for grazing of land
- Identified ways in which a grazier can look after and improve the land
- Provided specific land tenure & tax advice
- Offered training and mentoring support.