MORE than 1,000 hill farmers, responsible for managing some of the region’s most precious landscapes and environments, could be facing a very bleak winter, farm leaders claim.

The NFU in the North-East believes some of the region’s most vulnerable farm businesses are being put at risk due to the failure of the Rural Payments agency to make payments owed to them.

In a letter sent to local MPs sitting on the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chairman of the NFU’s North East Regional Board, Will Terry highlighted the situation affecting those farming common land – which makes up more than 12 per cent of farmland across Yorkshire and the North-East.

Emphasising the need to manage common land in an environmentally sustainable way, Mr Terry said commons graziers have an important job to do.

“However, as most are marginal hill farmers, Common Agricultural Policy Basic Payment Scheme – BPS - and agri-environment payments are vital to help maintain their viability,” he said.

“Lengthy payment delays have already caused real hardship for a lot of commons graziers and any further delays as we move into winter will see many put under intense financial pressure.”

In the North York Moors alone, of 200 BPS applications made by one agent, 80 per cent are still awaiting payment of some form, and in many cases the shortfall is significant.

“We are asking for urgent clarification on what the RPA intends to do to bring this debacle to a close by providing clear information to applicants on when their payments will be made,” added Mr Terry.

“We are also seeking reassurance that unresolved problems from 2015 will not spill over into 2016, prolonging the financial stress for so many farming families.”