The National Trust has been accused of re-enacting Highland permits as it steals land from farmers to increase renaturalization.
The new environmental subsidies have prompted the Trust to reallocate land long used for agriculture to plant trees or leave it to nature, farmers say.
Kevin Bateman, a Devon-based estate agent, said he was aware of several cases in the region where the charity took the land back from tenants and removed it from food production.
He likened it to a “Highland clearing reenactment,” adding that the charity was taking advantage of new environmental schemes that pay land managers for measures like tree planting and reforestation.
The new policies introduced after the UK left the EU should replace European subsidies – which were based on the size of the cultivated land – with rewards for environmentally friendly management.
But there is concern that owners are trying to take advantage of this change by taking the land out of the hands of farmers and managing it themselves.
‘It does not seem right’
Patrick Greed, 61, received an incentive from the Trust to end his lease.
His children, who are in their 30s, aren’t interested in hiring him, so he’s actually retiring earlier than expected and will be leaving the farm next year.
He said the 150-acre lease of his land, which had been used as pasture for beef cattle, was not renovated last year and was planted with trees.
The main property, with a different type of lease – which it had held for almost three decades and which had been used for growing cereals and vegetables – will now also be taken over by the Trust.
“They gave me an incentive to leave and I took it,” he said.
“I wouldn’t mind leaving the farm if it were to be run like a farm, but you have productive land, grade 1 and 2, where they will potentially go and plant trees. It doesn’t seem fair.
“There are other places where trees could be placed in the country, not on highly productive land.”
Data produced by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that the area of land in England held under the new form of leasing, which was growing, fell by three per cent between 2019 and 2020.
George Dunn, CEO of the Tenant Farmers Association, said, “We are involved in a number of other cases up and down the country where owners are attempting to take back the land for activities that could include tree planting, reforestation. and you too. We have the whole renewable energy issue, where you follow the solar path to the earth. It is happening through the piece.
The group is pushing for landowners to be barred from access to public funding for tree planting and reforestation if they have taken the land back from a tenant.
“We all need healthy soils”
A National Trust spokesperson said, “We want to support our tenants to put nature at the heart of managing our land, while continuing to run successful businesses that produce great food. We always try to keep good relations with them.
“Our tenants, ranchers and common rights holders play a vital role in helping to preserve landscapes and address climate and natural crises. We want to be the favorite host of the many farmers who are ambitious for nature and climate action.
“Choice is not nature or food, we need both. A healthy natural environment is the foundation of good food production.
“We all need healthy soils, clean water and lush nature, including the many species that pollinate our crops. All of this will help ensure the future of sustainable food production.
“We understand and take very seriously the impact on tenants when leases are not renewed and work hard to support them with the challenges they face as a result.
“Importantly, the vast majority of our leases are being let back to the same tenant and our goal in the future is to engage in discussions at least three years before a lease breakpoint so that options can be properly explored.”
“A deeply traumatic experience”
Richard Benyon, the minister for rural affairs, has asked the National Trust to help its tenants access environmental funding.
“When people’s families have cultivated these landscapes for generations, completing it can be a deeply traumatic experience,” he said.
“I hope the National Trust is doing everything it can to support farmers in continuing to farm their land.”