A training scheme has been awarded substantial further funding from the Prince’s Countryside Fund following a ringing endorsement of its success. The scheme is the brainchild of the Foundation for Common Land who responded to concerns expressed amongst farmers. The programme was set up specifically to help conservation and countryside professionals develop a better understanding of the needs and practical issues relating to upland farming. “There was a feeling that sometimes officers working in public bodies may not fully appreciate how their policies can impact on farming and local communities, leading to frustration and misunderstandings”, explained the Foundation’s Executive Director, Dr Julia Aglionby.
Farmers were recruited to develop the scheme and to lead training on their own farms, with initial sessions set in the Lake District and Dartmoor. The programmes were oversubscribed, and generated positive feedback from those attending, and commendations in a formal evaluation by the Countryside and Community Research Institute of the University of Gloucestershire. Courses were praised for the detailed technical knowledge disseminated, the practical hands-on sessions involving sheep husbandry, and for the presentation of case studies. In particular it was shown that agency staff had developed a greater understanding of farm finances, and on the impact of countryside agreements on the viability of hill farm businesses. All of those participating claimed that their colleagues could also benefit, and many called for senior policy makers to attend such courses.
“What we had not realised”, continued Dr Aglionby, “was just how two-way the benefits would turn out to be. Not only do the conservation professionals now consider that they have better understanding of upland livestock issues, but those farmers providing the training have also developed a closer rapport with those involved, leading to better working relationships”. The Foundation considers that this training should be part of a longer term movement towards increased dialogue and understanding between farmers and other stakeholders.
The Foundation now has a package of training that can be rolled out to other areas. Explained Dr Aglionby, “The award from the Prince’s Countryside Fund will enable us to build on the success already achieved and to expand this training nationally, with courses also being offered in Wales and Scotland in the coming year.”