A DEAL to switch more farming support into environmental schemes is the best possible news for Exmoor, according to West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

The Government made the decision which will see EU money diverted away from lowland farming to support environmentally-friendly agriculture on the hills.

In total, 12 per cent of England’s farming support budget will be going into schemes that benefit the environmental and rural growth schemes.

The figure is less than farmers’ leaders had feared, but Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the intention is to top the sum up by another three per cent in the next couple of years.

English farming organisations have also criticised the 12 per cent rate claiming it will give competitors an unfair advantage.

But Mr Liddell-Grainger says the deal recognised the fact that hills farmers are a special case and need and deserve ongoing support.

He said: “I know there are a few lowland farmers who will take a pretty dim view of this but the fact is that, on the hills, farmers deliver more than just food.

“They deliver stunning landscapes which are a huge asset for the tourist industry and one we lose at our peril – and all that against a background of harsh weather and thin, generally poor soils.”

The agreement was reached after sustained pressure from a cross- Party group of rural MPs including Mr Liddell-Grainger.

He added: “This is the best possible start to the new year for Exmoor farmers.

“It may not bring them untold riches but at least it stabilises the situation and gives them a firm platform from which to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”