Farming land management: Hill farming

The hills are a harsh environment for farming  and its careful management plays a vital role in maintaining the landscape and rural communities.

Much of the upland area in England is classified as Less Favoured Area and is eligible for support to assist beef and sheep production.

Details of specific management issues and the support available for farming in the English uplands are provided in the sections below:

  • grazing management
  • soil erosion
  • Hill Farm Allowance

Grazing management

Controlled grazing management helps maintain the quality and species of upland vegetation.

Overgrazing – either through prolonged grazing or through increased stocking rates -  adversely affects the growth, quality or species composition of upland vegetation and should be avoided.

If you are considering increasing stocking rates to intensive levels on upland areas you will need to obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Undergrazed land is where the annual growth is not fully utilised, or where scrub or coarse vegetation is becoming evident, and these changes are detrimental to the environmental interest of the site

The code of Good Farming Practice, which applies to farmers in receipt of LFA payments, includes requirements to avoid overgrazing and undergrazing.

You should also avoid supplementary feeding if it is likely to encourage excessive trampling or poaching of the land by animals or excessive rutting by vehicles.

Soil erosion

Upland areas are at risk from erosion because of the climate, soils and landscape. It is most severe on peat soils and steep slopes.

Chapter 6 of the Defra booklet Controlling Soil Erosion outlines steps you  should take to minimise damage from agricultural practices, which includes keeping vehicle use to a minimum and ensuring the entire grazing area is used to prevent localised overgrazing.

Additional measures must be undertaken on designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest or held within any agri-environmental scheme.

The burning of heather, purple moor grass and mat grass must be correctly timed to avoid uncontrolled fires, damage to young vegetation, and damage to the underlying soil which can lead to extensive erosion.

By law burning is allowed only from 1 October to 15 April in the uplands. A licence is required at all other times and can only be obtained in very specific circumstances.

Further advice on burning is contained within the Heather and Grass Burning Code.

Hill Farm Allowance

The Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) scheme is administered by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) under the Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013

It recognises the difficulties faced by farmers in upland areas and the vital role they play in maintaining the landscape and rural communities of the hills.

The scheme provides dedicated support to beef and sheep producers who farm in the Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) of England, recognizing the role  played in maintaining the landscape and rural communities.

An  interactive map showing LFA land can be viewed through the Multi-Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside (Magic) mapping facility.

If in receipt of LFA allowances you must respect Good Farming Practice across the whole farm.

Land on which the HFA is claimed is eligible to counts towards the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) points target.

Farmers can put ELS management options on HFA land.

Revised LFA Payment rates have been announced for 2006, which is the last year for the planned operation of the scheme.

However, Defra’s uplands policy team is reviewing ways of continuing to protect the uplands by ensuring environmental land management is rewarded.

Full details of the HLA scheme are available in the Hill Farm Allowance explanatory booklet 2006.

Further information

See also


  • Defra helpline – 08459 33 55 77
  • Rural Payments Agency helpline – 0845 603 7777
  • English Nature – 0870 1214 177
  • Defra Uplands Management Branch – 020 7238 6521

Page last modified: 20 May 2008
Page published: 1 July 2006