Union protests at delay in upland sheep payments

Not only are Scotland's sheep producers suffering from the non-delivery of new support measures targeted at hill farmers, but vital improvements are required to fine-tune the scheme ahead of the next application period, it was claimed this week.

Upland sheep farmers have received no cash yet. Picture: Ian Georgeson

While the new Scottish Upland Sheep Support (SUSS) scheme was designed to assist active hill farmers and crofters though a payment coupled to the number of ewe hoggs they kept, the Scottish NFU this week said had been disappointed that payments under this scheme remained “at the back of the queue” when it came to sorting out the “debacle around delayed support payments and the flawed IT system”.

Writing to rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, the union said that so far no payments on the scheme – worth an estimated £6 million to those carrying out productive work in the hills and uplands – had been made. Nor, they claimed, had producers been given any firm indication of the level of payment which would they would receive.

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Responding to the charges, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As NFU Scotland are well aware, the Scottish Government has been wholly focused on making as many BPS/Greening payments as possible by the end of June.

“As we have advised on at least two occasions, it has always been the Scottish Government’s intention to commence sheep payments this month.

“Until now, the NFUS had expressed no concern about this. However, we will take on board what they are now saying about the timetable. We will also consider their proposed changes to the scheme carefully.”

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The union’s director of policy, Jonnie Hall, said that there had been misgivings amongst producers since the scheme had been announced. He said a number of tweaks were required to the scheme make it more workable.

“Directing precious common agricultural policy funding at those actively farming remains a key priority for Scotland”, said Hall.

“SUSS was specifically designed to assist those keeping hill sheep in some of Scotland’s most remote parts through payments on the ewe hoggs being kept as the next generation of their flocks.”

He said that although it looked likely that the headage payments would be down on the €100 per head originally anticipated, a set of rules more suited to practical applications could help it achieve its aims.

“Therefore, NFU Scotland is not seeking to amend the budget or payment rate components of the scheme,” he said. “Instead, we want to make it more effective and better aligned to the interests of the hill farmers and crofters it is intended to support.”

Farmers report more incidents of sheep worrying

A campaign aimed at getting farmers to report any incidents of sheep worrying to the police has been hailed as a success – and will be rolled out again in future years.

Police Scotland said that a push during the spring to get on top of the problem had led to a 55 per cent increase in the number of cases reported over the lambing season when sheep and lambs were at their most vulnerable. Inspector Jane Donaldson, Police Scotland’s rural crime co-ordinator, said that almost two-thirds of the incidents had led to people allowing their dogs to run amok being reported to the Procurator Fiscal.

She said that in nearly three-quarters of cases, the offending dog was local to the area – and that in more than half of all incidents the dog had been roaming free.

“Livestock worrying has previously been under-reported. Farmers were often reluctant to report incidents to police, particularly where there was a ‘near miss’ and no physical damage was done to stock,” said Donaldson.

“A significant part of the campaign was to get encourage farmers to report all incidents, reflected in the increase in reported crimes.”

Gemma Thomson, policy manager with the NFU Scotland, said she the union was pleased that Police Scotland had taken a keen interest in the issue.