CONSERVATIVE MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has accused NFU officials of ‘unbelievable arrogance’ in telling him not to take part in a farmers’ protest meeting over plans to re-wild part of Exmoor National Park.
The event is being staged to discuss farmers’ response to the ‘Exmoor Vision’ document produced by the national park authority.
This lays out plans to turn at least 10% of the park – 26 square miles – into wilderness areas such as wetlands, scrub and woodlands.
Detailed proposals have already been approved by Exmoor’s nature conservation advisory panel, drawn largely from external wildlife organisations.
But the document has infuriated Exmoor farmers. They say although ‘consultations’ are taking place with farming organisations it is clear the details of the project have already been agreed – and they are warning Exmoor will become nothing more than a playground for the wealthy if the project goes ahead.
Mr Liddell-Grainger, whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency covers two-thirds of the national park, said he had been ready to join the forthcoming meeting in order to forward farmers’ concerns direct to Government.
But now the NFU says it does not want him to take part in the ‘farmer workshop’.
Its Somerset county advisor Lydia Cox has written to him saying: “As this is very much a farmer led and focused meeting looking at how they can help influence and shape the future of the vision, it will not be necessary for you to join.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger said the union’s attitude defied belief.
“I know from my post box and the phone calls I have had that Exmoor farmers are livid about this,” he said.
“They believe they are about to be stitched up and they look on the consultation process as an utter sham.
“In all my 20 years as a local MP I have never known such levels of anger in the Exmoor farming community. That is why it is so unbelievably arrogant of the NFU to take this attitude with me.
“At the moment those farmers need all the help and support they can get otherwise livelihoods are going to be ruined and businesses wrecked.
“And unless we can go over the park authority’s head and raise this issue directly with Government they have no hope of stopping this totally crass project going ahead.
“The NFU has a pretty miserable history when it comes to taking on governments. It has been led by a succession of yes-men who have been more concerned about receiving the customary knighthood at the end of their term of office than standing up to ministers on behalf of their members – and it‘s no wonder that so many farmers, particularly in the southwest, regard it as nothing more than a cosily-run extension of an insurance company.
“I remain ready to help Exmoor farmers take this matter to the highest possible level within Government and I suggest if they want to see some real action they contact me directly rather than wasting time on a ‘workshop’ which promises to achieve the square root of damn-all.”