The National Sheep Association (NSA) said it is exasperated by comments made by former Defra board member Ben Goldsmith attacking UK sheep farming, demonstrating what NSA believes to be a naive and uneducated view on a vital sector in the uplands.
Responding to a piece by Mr Goldsmith in the Independent newspaper on Wednesday, March 15, NSA said it wants to defend the valuable role that sheep have in the UK’s countryside.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Sheep have been in the British Isles since the Neolithic settlers landed on our shores around 3000BC- 5000 years ago. They have created and maintained some of the most loved landscapes we see and enjoy today including nine of England’s 13 National Parks that are situated in upland areas.
“It is no accident that most of our National Parks are in areas predominated for generations by grassland and sheep.”
Mr Stocker continued: “The unique environment, working for most times in harmony with sheep farming, is highly valuable in relation to water management and quality, carbon sequestration, and nature, and provides people with social and health benefits.”
NSA conceded that there may have been a time when UK farming solely focussed on production but increasingly the industry has moved to farming practices that consider the wider environment and how agriculture plays a positive role in the maintenance of this.
Mr Stocker said: “Both the Countryside Stewardship schemes, HLS, and the new Environmental Land Management schemes have the environment and nature at their heart, ensuring the wildlife of Britain has increasingly improving habitats.
“The success of many of our native wildlife lifecycles are directly linked to livestock grazing providing food, nutrients, and a favourable environment.
“NSA is incredibly disappointed that senior officials and Defra representatives can at times be ignorant to the benefits of grazing animals and the value of British produce and strongly urge the Department to ensure an improved understanding of those who would benefit from a better appreciation of this.”