Farming charity battles to survive

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Farming charity supporters were set to meet this week in a late-minute attempt to save their organisation from closure and keep its 120 employees in work.

Members, supporters and staff of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) were due to hold a meeting at Thirsk Auction Mart yesterday, Thursday, November 2.

The charity has been facing financial crisis caused by a massive fall in government funding and contracts to work for government agencies.

Bankers have also refused to lend any more money, leaving the charity facing an economic black hole.

Now grass-roots members from across Yorkshire are to address the problem.

FWAG committees from across Yorkshire organised the Thirsk meeting to try to find a solution to the crisis facing their charity.

The FWAG committees for North Yorkshire, South and West Yorkshire, and East Yorkshire, were due to come together with six of the charity’s staff based at Thirsk Auction Mart.

The charity’s North Yorkshire chairman Nick Ramsden runs a mixed farm at Myton-on-Swale was hopeful for the meeting.

He said:

“We are going to brainstorm to see what we can do.

“The Yorkshire team has always met its budgets and produced a margin.”

Trustees have also been in discussions to try to find an alternative to wrapping up the organisation, ending its operations and sacking all 120 employees across the UK.

However, accountancy firm Baker Tilly has been on standby to take over the administration of FWAG if no alternatives could be found to keep the charity operating.

FWAG was formed in 1969 as an independent advisory body for farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The founders were farmers concerned with what they saw as the increasing industrialisation of the countryside. It remains more popular with many farmers than other environmental agencies or organisations, and because of its beginnings has a network of farmers’ committees across the country.

The body has in the past received government funding, but this gave way to contracts to work for government agencies including DEFRA’s biggest subsidiary, Natural England.

However, both sources of funding have dried up amidst wide-spread government spending cuts.

The organisations nationwide network advisors offer farmers conservation advice, and can help them apply for environmental funding schemes like Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship.

However, fees earned by the advisors and membership subscriptions _ £45 per year plus VAT, have lately been falling short of FWAG’s running costs.

Even these sources of income have been reliant on government patronage.

Farmers are often advised to enlist the help of a FWAG advisor to make applications to stewardship schemes, but have to be FWAG members to do so.

What do you think the future should hold for FWAG? Write to the Ripon Gazette at 5a Kirkgate, Ripon, HG4 1PA or email news@ripongazette.co.uk