The hidden contribution made by farmers to saving England's b eautiful landscape is revealed in a report out yesterday.
The National Farmers' Union and the Campaign to Protect Rural England estimate in their document, Living landscapes: hidden costs of managing the countryside, that farmers carry out more than £400 million of landscape work in a year, beyond those within the framework of "agri-environment" schemes.
Any changes in funding for agriculture must take account of these unrecognised costs.
The NFU and CPRE have together produced a report which they said provides the first estimate of the cost of the work that England's farmers and agricultural workers do in conserving and managing the country's much loved and h ugely valuable rural economy.
The findings aim to kick start a debate about long-term support for farmers which recognises their leading role in looking after a diverse, beautiful and uplifting countryside for the benefit of everyone.
The survey measured landscape conservation work not c overed by the agrienvironment schemes. It worked out at £2,410 per year for the average English farm.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: "We need policy-makers and policy-influencers to understand that there is much much more to being a farmer than being a least-cost producer of food.
"If economics was every-thing, many of the things people loved about the countryside would be under threat in the name of efficient production.
"The fact that they remain. is because farmers instinctively understand the wider cultural and environmental significance of what goes to make up our landscapes."
CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: "Amid all the talk of globalisation and increased competitiveness in agriculture, our farmers will need to be supported to look a fter our beautiful countryside.
"Great landscapes matter to us all - they contribute to our well-being, our personal and environmental health and our economy in all sorts of ways, including tourism."
The research was based on a survey of farmers asking how many hours in an average year it took them to work on a list of features that contribute to the character of the landscape.
An estimate of the cost of this time, based on the contractor's rates, was then calculated.
This survey was then followed up by interviewing in depth 27 farmers who had responded to the survey.
The interviews examined and confirmed the findings, and also revealed that if farm support payments were abolished, farming and conservation work would decline drastically-with devastating effects for the countryside. Land would either be abandoned or farmed even more intensively.
A recent report by the Treasury and Defra, foresaw the ending of farm support payments - causing both the NFU and CPRE serious concern.
Equally worrying, cuts to the EU's rural development funds means that funding for agri-environment schemes could be reduced in the future, when instead they should be growing, given rising concerns about the environment and growing appreciation of the countryside.
Shaun Spiers said: "The Government must realise that there's no such thing as a free hedgerow when it comes to farmers looking after the wider countryside.
"We need to make sure they can continue this crucial role, because if they don't, who will?"