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Ritchie Says Taskforce Needed To Restore Upland Farms
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SOUTH Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has argued for the implementation of a taskforce to deal with the restoration and renewal of upland farms.

Ms Ritchie was speaking yesterday during an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the effect of weather conditions on upland sheep farmers.dn_screen

She said: “This debate provided an essential opportunity to put forward my concerns regarding the challenges faced by upland farmers in my constituency who were badly affected by the recent snowfall.

“In particular upland farmers in the Mournes and in Slieve Croob suffered devastating loss of livestock and collapsed livestock sheds.

 “I travelled through tunnels of snow to visit a number of farmers and on one particular farm I saw about 29 ewes and lambs under a tarpaulin that were sadly all dead.

“Given the unique bond that exists between the farmers and their sheep we need a special taskforce to deal with the restoration and renewal of upland farms for upland farmers.

“As a member of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee I will be pushing hard for all farmers suffering as a result of the extreme weather conditions particularly for upland farmers who are vulnerable within the agricultural industry.

“The government must look to the European Union for any unspent rural development moneys to help regenerate upland farms and bare it in mind when it comes to negotiating the terms of the Common Agricultural Policy reform.”

Details of Margaret Ritchie’s Parliamentary Intervention on 24/4/13

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland that was badly affected by the snow. Many upland farmers in the Mournes and in Slieve Croob were affected. I travelled through tunnels of snow to visit those farmers, and on one particular farm, I saw about 29 ewes and lambs lying under a tarpaulin. When that was pulled back, I could see that they were all dead. I also noticed collapsed livestock sheds. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, because of the bond between the farmer and his sheep, we need a particular taskforce to deal with the restoration and renewal of upland farms for upland farmers?

Glyn Davies: Again, I agree with that intervention and I feel certain that the agriculture departments in the three devolved countries and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be doing that very thing. I certainly hope so; perhaps the Minister will address that point in his response.

Ms Ritchie: Could the Minister find out whether it would be possible to get permission from the European Union to use any unspent rural development moneys to help regenerate uphill sheep farmers and their farms?

Mr Heath: I think the situation will be different for each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, so I hesitate to give the hon. Lady an answer that might mislead her about the position in Northern Ireland. We are currently negotiating pillar two payments. We are not in a position to know what the future funding arrangements will be there. In negotiating the CAP, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are very aware that the needs of upland farmers must be met because, as we have already indicated, that is an extremely vulnerable sector of the agricultural industry