Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on the local environment of sheep farming.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The sheep sector plays a vital role in contributing to rural life, local economies and the iconic landscapes of the UK. With over 50% of the national flock being in Wales and Scotland, the sheep sector is an important sector across the UK.

The climate and topography of the UK mean that much of it is unsuited to commercial crop production, especially in Wales, Scotland and the north and west of England, where livestock production is the main use of agricultural land. Sheep are a major part of that, with breeds adapted to thrive in areas of harsh climate, topography and low feed-value vegetation. Furthermore, grazing of sheep has a key role in maintaining open habitats, primarily grasslands and heathlands, by hindering succession to scrub or woodland in the lowlands and sub-montane zone. In doing so they are an important land management resource.

We are currently developing our own farming policies as we prepare to leave the EU. Our intention, as laid out in the Agriculture Bill, is for our future policies to primarily reward farmers for providing environmental benefits. We are currently working with farmers, land managers and representative bodies including the National Farmers Union, Tenant Farmers Association and National Sheep Association to ensure that our future Environmental Land Management system can work with livestock farms including sheep farms in lowland and upland areas.

Defra undertakes and coordinates research across the whole food production system, looking at factors including environmental impacts, productivity, efficiency, waste reduction etc. This includes research into sustainable diets, local and seasonal produce, environmental labelling, supply chain efficiency, and sustainable consumption.

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