A group of bishops from across Yorkshire have been hearing of the difficulties and uncertainties facing farmers and farming on a fact-finding visit to the final day of the Great Yorkshire Show.
The five bishops, including the Bishop of Ripon, Rt. Revd James Bell and the Bishop of Huddersfield, Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs (pictured left with Bishop Alison White and Georgina Lamb of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution), met with NFU leaders, landowners, representatives of tenant farmers and charities working with farmers facing personal and financial difficulties.
Brexit concerns were raised by a number of organisations including the Countryside Landowners Association. Their regional director, Dorothy Fairburn, (pictured right with Bishop Alison White and James Bell) said key post-Brexit issues which needed to be addressed were farming support, regulations, international trade and ensuring the labour supply. The NFU has called for a new UK domestic agricultural policy to be introduced as soon as possible, saying that there is a need was for certainty and clear decisions.
Bishop James said, “Clearly the whole area of Brexit is really important and the uncertainty that hat involves. We have heard a whole range of issues raised already. And alongside that we have heard there are the ongoing issues of affordable housing, access to services, isolation, mental health and these are really important issues.”
Along with the Bishops of Ripon and Huddersfield representing the Diocese of Leeds, three bishops from the Diocese of York also took part – (pictured left, l to r) Rt Revd John Thomson, the Bishop of Selby, Rt Revd Paul Ferguson, the Bishop of Whitby and (fifth from left), the Rt Revd Alison White, the Bishop of Hull.
The visit was hosted by Canon Leslie Morley , Chaplain to the Yorkshire Agricultural Society who said that the visit was a valuable way of developing closer relations between the church and important rural organisations. “This is an opportunity” he said, “for the bishops to meet with some of the key people and organisations that influence farming and rural life.”
Helping farmers in crisis
During this year’s Great Yorkshire Show It had already been revealed that one in ten dairy farms across the country have closed in the past three years, with eighty nine dairy farms in North Yorkshire going out of business – one in seven. (In the driving seat - pictured right, Bishop James Bell and Bishop Alison White)
The bishops met a number of organisations offering help to those facing financial and personal difficulties including the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and the Farming Community Network, a Christian based charity which offers counselling and financial advice. Both work closely with a third charity, the Addington Fund which addresses the housing needs of tenant farmers who can no longer farm and face financial crises. (Left with James Bell and Jonathan Gibbs are Ian Bell of the Addington Fund and Charles Smith of FCN)
Bishop James Bell said, “The value of the meetings is that we get informed by people who are deeply and passionately involved in rural issues and rural communities and correspondingly they see us, we are present at the show, five bishops together, five purple shirts, five pectoral crosses, all in evidence, which says something about the church’s presence. In particular, when we are meeting with the agricultural charities, it’s a real demonstration that we are interested, concerned and care and wanting to help where practically possible.”