While we wait for the Organic Research Centre to create a scorecard from everyone's input a subsection of the Advisory Team are continuing to discuss how ELM might work for the management of Commons. The group met virtually on the 12th of October and these are the notes from that discussion.

  • This would have come up in an NFU Uplands Forum conversation we’ve been having so it’s about identifying where the problems are. We have a Commons Association but despite being part of a National Park it’s not joined up by Natural England [NE]. It would be amazing to have a Dartmoor plan which has an understanding and recognition of the role commons have with one another. As an individual it has to be up to me to want to sign into the agreement, be part of something bigger.

  • To me I think one of the priorities is to have independent facilitation within commons. This present situation with a lot of money chucked on the table with no independent facilitation that’s just a recipe for disaster, in some places it does work but in some places it doesn’t. You need overall joined up thinking about how one commons affects another. I think NE need to recognise the role that the home farm plays and that you might have to have a different agreement on your home farm to facilitate what’s on the common but both should be rewardable.

  • My vision for this is that you treat Dartmoor commons as one massive holding and then you treat each common as a management area, so you have your own bits of that and then you have a framework which is Dartmoor wide which gives you a formula for distributing the money and that should allow enough input from the Commons Association about what you do locally and you can approach problems where commons adjoin collectively. It’s got to be simple. That’s the only real way I can see it work for the individual farm, it needs to be recognised that the farms support the commons.

  • In terms of how you record what you do on the common you record your grazing, your schedule or framework, turned over to an outcome base, submitting those records, being an active commoner. So for non-graziers they can submit evidence of other work, stock counts, condition assessments, repairing tracks, if you’re doing those things you’re contributing. In terms of the home farm and common if by being an active commoner that evidence gives you your collaboration element so should tick your Tier 2 boxes.

  • So if individuals signed up as a farm business what proof, a statement of what they can supply, what they can offer approach. It needs to be an awful lot more than the threat of not turning out, there are jobs to be done. Do something, don’t just sit back and threaten to turn out livestock, come with the positive of what you can deliver to the scheme. We have no idea as to what we’re supposed to be delivering under the current HLS schemes, I looked at the New Forest their scheme is a lot more detailed and relevant, ours are pie in the sky. If we all understood and knew what was wanted, what the stocking density was expected to be we’d all have a much better idea about what numbers of stock we can put up there. If we understood the vegetation monitoring standards so that we could interpret SSSI assessments so that when we read them we know precisely what they mean, upskilling ourselves so we can’t be duped. Taking ownership, understanding what is wanted but also stating exactly what we can deliver e.g. livestock for so many months, proper jobs.

  • I would see that from a business point of view I would want to know what the commons agreement was first because what you get allocated on the common makes a difference to what you can deliver on the home farm so from running a business point of view I’d want to see that first. If you’re talking about how you deliver non-grazier payment that’s an interesting one. I’d say a flat rate payment on the Commoner’s Council live register with a payment slightly more than the council charges them a) administratively easy and b) give the council a guaranteed income. On top of that pay people for specific involvement and specific work. On Dartmoor wide basis there should be a principle that people are engaged that actually sign up, get the opportunity to do that work first and get paid a decent rate for doing it. I’m not that keen on the idea that you get the lowest cost contractor in. You’d need to know the existing framework, your basic principles and approximately what your stocking rates might be on the common before you could really make a business decision. You need some control over what’s up there.

  • I would like to think that NE’s days are numbered and we can contribute more to this conversation than we are currently. In terms of our home farms we can do what we think delivers the right outcomes, you graze winter sheep if you want to, if you can justify those decisions environmentally and in terms of our business. We can take ownership about how that’s managed on the commons. We have an idea already of how many sheep and how many cows are required to graze for the best outcomes. If someone ruins an agreement by doing what they want that should then affect their home farm payment. Even if an individual hasn’t chosen to join the agreement if they seriously mess it up for everyone else they should be penalised on their home farm, it’s not really cricket.

  • I agree with what’s just been said but how bad could it be? Why does someone not want to be in an agreement generally it’s because they don’t want restrictions on their stocking or they don’t like somebody. If they don’t want restrictions on their stocking there has to be an enforcement of good practice. They will have a way of controlling us whatever we do. If someone doesn’t go into an agreement because they don’t like someone there’s nothing you can do about that. There has to be a compliance methodology. Worst case scenario someone turns out a lot of livestock all year around, our commons can cope with that, we can work around these things. If someone put their cattle out and they can’t feed them it will go in someone’s inbox and be a problem to be addressed. It might be a problem but problems can be solved.

  • How do you stop an individual causing real issues to an agreement is a really difficult one to get to grips with. I think what the previous point said was really interesting. It’s thinking outside of that box we’ve forced into by NE but I do think there could easily be something that if people are in a home farm agreement they then cannot frustrate or damage a common without penalties. At the moment you’re not supposed to be in an HLS and frustrate another one but that never seems to have been enforced. The other thing that really bothers me is SSSIs. We can deliver good public access but your biodiversity isn’t going to be good, that’s fine unless someone is going to come in and overrule that and say that’s SSSI and overrule that decision. If SSSI status is going to be used as a trump card on other public goods we need to know that. – Project Officer to check with Defra, Defra Officer checking with strategy team.

  • Whole lot of things coming out of these things. Current HLS so vague and instruments for managing them so blunt, we can’t act unless someone sitting miles away says we can. So under ELMs we’ve really got to have much clearer long term objectives and plans to achieve them ourselves. The work required to achieve whichever public good we’re aiming for, the difficulty is how you’re paid to do that, so if it’s a lump sum payment you could loose your annual profit by doing too much work. They key thing is we must have control over our own plans so we can manage things ourselves. The idea about having the commons agreement first, I’m sure that’s true, makes a lot of sense for big commons but for the small commons the home farms might be bigger than the commons so that approach may not work for those commons but I’m not sure of that. Then just a comment, I know that you don’t want to look at the whole issue of grazing rights but the fact is that because on a lot of commons the number of registered rights is so high it makes it easy for most people to mess up the scheme if they choose to because they have a registered right to graze so many animals they could mess up any public goods scheme attempted by the others. As long as that’s there, there will always be the risk that one maverick farmer could mess it up for everyone else. If it was allocated at an agreed rate that everyone can sustain that would enable control of maverick people. One way around it would be to have a legislative requirement that everyone is a member of an association and have to comply with their rules.

  • How do you stop individuals frustrating agreements? As I said early independent Dartmoor facilitators setting stocking, there as an arbitration body, must be independent, you hope that everyone would accept and I think the vast majority would. I have advocated for a long time that people should not be able to claim on one common and frustrate another. Ultimately in answer to the point on rights there’s going to be no chance of changing common land rights. We’ve looked at it before and it’s a non-starter but don’t forget that you do have the Commoner’s Council which has the power to control grazing, putting limitation orders on individual stocking. That power already exists on Dartmoor and we do already have codes of guidance for behaviour.

  • [In response to PO suggestion that would having different Commons around the country administering each other work – because they understanding commoning but would not be personally invested?] On that question about having people in, it would be important that they understand how commons work. I know there are commons across the country but there are very few that are linked together in one body. Hopefully Dartmoor’s big enough that we’ve got enough anonymity across Dartmoor. I don’t think we have to worry too much about people messing up agreements, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s businesses interest to buy stock and chuck them out. Focus on solutions not problems.

  • Coming back to an earlier point we must understand that it’s not always the commoners that hold the trump cards, it’s often the owners. I think you’re right that across the 35,000 hectares of Dartmoor there’s not many that cause trouble, it’s only trouble because NE says it is, it’s small scale and that’s irrelevant. We’ve managed to run some form of agreement with a difficult organisation that makes the rules up as they go along so anything can be an improvement on that. An independent body, moving away from the one to two man body we currently have, that’s a vast improvement. So, having more than one opinion to give balance. SSSIs are not fit for purpose, we never hit the targets in 2010, they don’t keep to the same methodologies for assessments which keeps moving the goal posts. Lets make something we can achieve.

  • I’m interested in what good looks like, how you guys propose to work out what good is and how you’re going to get there, how we agree best outcomes? I know flexibility has been brought up, we’re talking about land management so that has to be incredibly flexible. So say you have your grazing schedule and then unexpected weather, could you re-address it because it will have changed the outcomes? So how does the umbrella organisation distribute it out.

  • The issue of SSSI is quite interesting, they’re mostly quite poorly designated and then as the owner you have responsibility for safeguarding them. I got into trouble for people having fires on them but I can’t stop them coming in because it’s access land, so they’re completely unfair and ridiculous in multi-use landscapes. So there are loads of problems with them, that probably needs an overhaul, more focused and better designated. The really big SSSIs are nonsense, South Dartmoor is there for blanket bog but half of it has none. Moving on to the thought about public goods, one of the things about the current scheme is that it’s really to do with the restoration of vegetation and that’s been very successful, we’ve got a lot more vegetation around but its come with a lot of problems – molinia, bracken, gorse – that’s something that could be controlled but also minor changes don’t really mater. One of the problems with longer term public goods is that’s they’re more vulnerable in the first 1-5 years of something going wrong, e.g. newly planted trees are really easily damaged and you could loose 5 years of work and if you were being paid by results that would leave you in a difficult position. Payment in arrears might help if you only risked that year’s payments. We’re still focusing too much on grazing and I think that we should be thinking about diversifying the land use. In order to achieve a lot of the public goods we’ve got to intensify the land use a lot more. If we’re going to use the land more broadly we may need areas dedicated for peat or trees but then you may need more intensive grazing areas in other areas.

  • In terms of grazing the commons I think that’s very difficult. As a farmer those animals are all we’ve got. Are the landowners going to come at this from a very different angle? We can graze but they own the peat and all the other public goods. Going back to the question about what good looks like, if you ask everyone of us it will be different - areas of bog, shelter, woodland, archaeology, different solution for every type of common. So it’s a conversation within each common and then a framework of priorities within each habitat. So as long as we’re sat at that table being part of that conversation. Dartmoor wide part is umbrella organisation, setting framework and bringing clout.

  • I think, as land owners, we need to renegotiate the share of who owns what and whose entitled to what because otherwise I don’t think we’re going to be able to reach agreement for public goods. So say if on our commons I want to fence off some trees. In can only do that if the commoners agree, so that’s got to be done by negotiation and that’s the same for everything. Obviously, when the negotiation is taking place, if I’m getting the peat they’ll want a share. So I think the agreement has to be quite a broad range thing which is done through negotiation and gives the graziers a share of something, which is not their entitlement, in lieu of the fact that they're giving up their entitlement. The other way of doing it is to say this area of land would give you 5 tonnes of grass so we’ll improve somewhere else and intensify to deliver that 5 tonnes of grass elsewhere. I think it has to be not even a common by common agreement but on different parts of each common. So we have to go through and agree what everybody wants and how to partition out the share of public money that’s coming for that. It won’t work if the owners say all the carbon’s mine. It’s a re-negotiation, a more complicated agreement is going to have to be thrashed out.

  • It’s got to be a partnership more than a negotiation but it worries me that ultimately there’s a lot more that belongs to land owners than before.

  • Either Dartmoor wide or Association by Association you offer work locally and then more widely. Local procurement rules. We need to flag up that the negotiation to get to the partnership has to happened to the satisfaction of the graziers, we can’t achieve agreements without doing that because it’s not feasible for an owner to do something on the common without getting the graziers agreement.

  • Picking up on these two points. When we asked about payments having a designation a really good example is the role the DCOA [Dartmoor Commons Owners Association] played with the HLS scheme. The DCOA worked to create a formula for payment. The HLS agreement had to have the approval of an owner and therefore the owner considered they were worthy of a payment. When it comes to peat and water storage the shoes’ on the other foot. We won’t necessarily have a right but perhaps we look again at creating a formula for peat, carbon or water payments so that money comes out to graziers. I love the positivity that all owners recognize that it can’t be done without graziers, I hope it’s true but it may not be so it comes back to that requirement to accept each other’s part. We can work something down here, if you take it outside of Dartmoor they don’t have that.

  • To carry on that discussion when we did the Common Cause project down here it became apparent that the two of us could probably agree but I take the previous point that owners can be difficult. I know we need a standard with owners that can be agreed. We absolutely need formulas that are set, so again both owners and commoners have stuck with that formula through thick and thin over the last 20 years and that goes to show what you can do with peer pressure because there’s no requirement, it’s a voluntary thing but I’m not aware of any major deviations. Going back to the role of independent commons associations I see them as more of a local delivery body for work that’s being done. What I haven’t touched on is a need for independent monitoring. At the moment the internal agreements within an association are monitored by people within a small area. I’m interested in the thought that Dartmoor itself is big enough to get people who are independent. I’d be prepared to try it but we might still need to look outside to be truly independent. I hear different things about the way the Forest works.

  • I think the interesting thing is when we have felt an NE assessment was wrong we have not, if you find someone to challenge it they’re rare because they’re afraid of Natural England so none of us do. When we had an issue on a common which got carried away with burning. This fear pressure stops anything being discussed only, it stops errors being rectified. I do believe a lot of things that are done can be put right, we have to move away from this fear that we can never challenge NE for fear that they’ll fine us or won’t let us have an agreement.

  • I just waned to totally back the previous point about having someone independent doing monitoring.

  • This is an ideal opportunity for us to upskill so we can do these assessments.

While we wait for the Organic Research Centre to create a scorecard from everyone's input a subsection of the Advisory Team are continuing to discuss how ELM might work for the management of Commons. The group met virtually on the 5th of October and these are the notes from that discussion.

  • I asked the question to myself what’s the reason for linking home farm and common [a suggested research area of this Test & Trial]. One of two things, because someone somewhere wants a landscape scale to package everything into one bundle, which maybe delivers a better value project, cream everything off the top but it could still be done on an individual basis. The other reason to do it is because of the detrimental impact, do people believe that if one’s in an agreement and one’s out that it will be detrimental to the one that’s out? That’s not evidenced.

  • I’m not convinced it’s the latter. That people that are in a commons agreement and not in the home farm maybe they want to tie up both. I think they’re probably looking at tying up both, the RPA like nice round edges, they find some agreements difficult to manage. The enforcement and governance might be easier if the whole thing is tied together.

  • I think that’s right, I think it’s an opportunity that you could tie them together and it could be really advantageous to getting a landscape effect. It’s not just home farms, there are quite big new takes as well. Big areas of moorland with their own characters. At the moment our commons agreement has a great big chunk cut out of it and it’s a bit strange having these two agreements one for a place and one for a place within it. It’s an opportunity that could be used either with home farms or new takes.

  • But do you think - common rights, Piles doesn’t have common rights, so I can understand that it is a very similar landscape but different because its not got common rights but for us, yes the bigger picture might be good but then I would say the liability is still an issue.

  • Just on the point of liability, I don’t see why there’s any need to be any more risk for liability, there is now within commons agreements a degree of liability in any case. So I don’t see that as an issue providing the structure and the way it’s set up is right. There could be substantial advantages for an agreement which covers both home farms and commons but we need a lot of work to get started.

  • We’ve got a lot of issues with trust because we’ve had so many different systems no one’s really in charge of us, no goal posts so there’s ….. [note taker couldn’t keep up]

  • Trust, absolutely trust. I think to myself, if we had some trust with the RPA I could believe it could be different but I wouldn’t trust the RPA, not a smidge. The economy is not in a good enough place to have trust. If we could have what we currently have and dress it up to look different. No, I don’t want to link my home farm with the common, that’s the crux of it, because if the same stocking levels were put to the home farm because of the link, we’d be scuppered. That’s my real fear, when we drill down, that people will limit my stocking numbers so we’re no longer viable here.

  • Could we all start by agreeing that the existing system doesn’t work? We need to start by saying the RPA shouldn’t be the people administering it. You’ve got a split now between NE and the RPA, it’s even more chaotic and hopeless, we definitely need to get back to one organisation. I think right back when we started, I like the model we had going back to MAFF when you have regional administration and input into who was administering it. I think that sort of model needs to be administered.

  • Just to talk a bit more about this issue of trust. I mean clearly we’ve all had this experience with the RPA, NE and predecessors and we don’t trust them but they don’t trust us so they micromanage. We’ve got an agreement and we’ve got to do things but then they won’t let us do it unless they come and look and then they don’t come and look. I wonder if under payments by results it should be possible to have that bigger area of trust because it should be possible to define what those results should be and then if you don’t trust them you don’t get paid. One of the reasons we’re not trusted to swale is because a few years ago a farmer let one get out of control and an owner made a big deal of it, that’s really damaged the trust. Under payments by results we would have been penalised for that, under HLS there’s no penalty other than lack of trust so I think it should be possible to build trust in a different way. The current system isn’t working. The flexibility of businesses and need to have different stocking levels and of course the impact of higher stocking levels on the in bye land in the winter can be quite damaging in terms of water but I wonder if we’re not looking at a long enough time frame? Maybe one year you need 100 cattle wintering, maybe another 70 but if you’re limited to the minimum amount there’s just not enough flexibility there. I’m just wondering, in the interests of delivering public benefit, if there’s one year where you’ve caused the stocking density to be less good should we be penalised for that or not, should we be looking at how you do in 6 years out of 10 or not? Can we build in business flexibility?

  • You’ve got to remember where there’s a scheme there’s a schemer and people don’t always play nicely whatever system you’re using. Every farm is different. I do understand the fear of being told what to put on the home farm but they are two very different areas of land but if we are looking at outcome basis many farmers would carry large numbers of stock on their farm for short periods because that’s what it takes to common. We cannot afford to loose the link and we need to farm. I don’t know how tenants and owner occupiers are going to manage rents. Because there’s so much to look at, but because tenants are 50% on the uplands and we are disproportionately discriminated against when it comes to agreements on the common. We’ll end up with abandonment.

  • Rented land, land ownership, where we rent land and if the home farm and common land was all in one agreement I dare say we’d pay for the grass let and the owner would pick up for delivery on the common. If they were all in the same agreement the work would be done by somebody else. On the positives what would work is regular visits with a project officer or whoever is responsible for delivery, sign off when the project officer visits. Shared vision and agreements must stand true, we signed, we committed to significantly reduced stocking levels and yet here we are and an owner has us over a barrel, that’s not an agreement, an agreement works symbiotically. If we haven’t delivered we don’t get paid. I see what you’re saying. On some commons they have (NE/RPA) been severe, where swaling has got out of hand, 5 hectares out of 1600ha, penalties have been severe, going back to the beginning of the agreement and forward even though it was good for all the rest of the agreement, is that right to be so severe? Don’t think it builds relationships. We only graze 22% of our grazing rights, we all took a severe cut and if then that same cut was applied to the home farm it would be quite detrimental. We use the farm to manage the common. We need that resting place, that fall back. It also has to deliver enough to keep us viable.

  • I agree absolutely that you are affected when you’re in an environmental scheme. It affects your in-bye, farm, one's in a scheme and one isn’t and at that level that affects how you manage that common and it affects the home farm. I see linking the two together as being an advantage in that respect. If govt. is expecting everyone to be in an environmental scheme and your in one on the common, you cannot then deliver the same benefits on the in-bye because having to meet the different socking rates and calendars have a big effect. So I see a recognition at the level people design these schemes. We stayed out of a scheme on the home farm for 10 years because we couldn’t meet the needs of that and our schemes on the common. So I think the recognition of the link is necessary. Going back to the role of the RPA it horrifies me that we might be stuck with an institution like them going forward. They’ve been designed as an enforcement agency as a result of EU penalties because if they found anything wrong that money came from the Treasury so the RPA was given no flexibility whatsoever. Since we left Europe some of that has already started to go. Some of the bananas things on the arable side. It’s up to us to say to them if the RPA are going to continue to deliver this at the very least its structure and ethos needs to change. I agree with the previous points but again, it’s how we get the governance that delivers that. I still want a structure that delivers it across the whole of the area and that’s how I see the way forward, so that we have some lead, you don’t have something on one common and something entirely different on the next one, it’s illogical, you’ve got to treat them as a whole.

  • I think that the rule we need to keep to is keep it as simple as possible. In some cases I think it will be appropriate for farmers to join a common or new takes but if it doesn’t fit keep it simple and don’t try and link everybody in. I think the early issue of proportionality is an interesting one, penalties have been out of proportion sometimes but I think that’s because schemes have largely been about vegetation recovery and anything that sets it back is seen as a bad thing. We need to see things differently, move away from vegetation recovery to more sophisticated changes to deliver public goods. One thing I was wondering we should be looking at is the whole issue of common rights because they don’t have any real relationship to the way that farming is done. A small number is using their rights and only a small proportion but then there are lots of other people, retirees or manorial rights, that they’re never, ever going to graze so I think we’re always going to have problems with trust and some kind of policing system as long as we have a system of rights if which exercised would destroy everything. So I think there needs to be a reform of rights. It’ll take a long time and be really difficult but we’re never going to get anywhere without it. You can’t manage these schemes nationally you’ve got to manage them on a regional basis but what is the entity that would manage it? The farmers that do a lot of the work in terms of management but we all know that not all farmers are conservation minded so there needs to be some kind of controlling entity. So it seems to me we need to work out some kind of body, joint venture that needs to be there to manage the moor, given the trust, objectives, to manage the moor but if it doesn’t involve the farmers or the owners it’s not going to work. I don’t see it ever really working properly unless it’s managed locally. I think it’s the administrative entity, a body with a secretariat that signs the agreements with commons and farmers, gets a big chunk of money and distributes it. It monitors the agreements and sets the objective. It’s responsible for delivering whatever public good its agreed Dartmoor must deliver. It has enough autonomy that it can do it in a Dartmoor specific way, informed by Dartmoor land managers, not someone in an office in Reading. One group that decides what we do, what we spend and what the outcomes are, dominated by the people who understand the management of the land and have a long term interest in its sustainability, advised and have to listen to people about birds, insects, archaeology etc. which need to be maintained as part of public goods. So the question is how you develop that and how you ensure that it’s genuinely producing public goods, that it doesn’t just become a money laundering scheme for any one agenda. It has a governance structure which enforces a broad delivery but is dominated in practice by people who actually understand it. It’s got to be more flexible, more local but not so local that it’s down to quarters. I think it should be possible but of course sustaining that without one group dominating it is going to rely on a lot of trust and broad minded people but these discussion strike me that you’ve got really good people, who really care about it and could actually do that. Say you gave us lot the resources to do that we could do it, you could trust us, we’d have lots of arguments but it could be done.

  • Exactly as X says about a management board and I’ve said in the past it’s split in two, one that deals with vegetation and one finance. It would need to be empowered. Commons Associations have no power, it comes from the Commoners Council. When we as farmers go to a meeting there’ll be 8, 10, 12 NGOs sat around a table, maybe one farmer, but the rest is NGOs. If on this board there was some balance. Dartmoor as a whole which dealt with the finance side. Whatever went on in that management board would have to be agreed, approved and enforced so no one could come out and say “but I want to do it different”. Then bring it down to quarters or something more local for the vegetation side but once again it has to have teeth, if something is agreed in the room it has to happen outside. We always have the same problem, the Commons Act stipulates that if we want to do swaling we need to have the owner’s permission, I know that’s just swaling but it’s about the principle of empowerment. Reforming the common rights that’s never going to happen, please don’t go down that route. The consensus of opinion may well be that everyone with common rights wants to turn stock on the moor. If you took away the money you’d probably have the same people up there. I think if you took the money away you might have a few people putting stock out but then realising it’s not worth it. I don’t believe in the Tragedy of the Commons, you always get self-levelling on the common, whether it’s agreeable to everyone is another thing. I don’t think there would be enough money in an agreement to sustain the environmental benefits on a common, if they’re linked I don’t think there would be enough, would they sit together harmoniously or not. If our home farm was linked to the common land one of the problems we’d need to address to be environmentally friendly at home, to put up a £40,000 cattle shed might be of huge benefit to our system but then you’ve got a dirty water system and a blot on the landscape.

  • Property rights are one of the biggest issues to sort out within the commons. Then there’s the RPA and they have no standard settings, we do so why does the RPA not? It’s luck of the draw what walks through the door when you have an RPA inspection. There are certain cross compliance attached to BPS, I know it’s on available grazing….Lots of little commons not in agreements cause lots of problems on other commons so we have got serious issues about how we manage things. We’ve also got to look at peat protection, that’s going to trump most things, a fair amount of money, we can’t risk the peat to be burnt, we’ve got the stocking wrong, we’ve got too much combustible material on the common. The conditions on the ground means what animals will actually graze in that area. We’re creating, maintaining and enhancing things but how do you do that on profit foregone plus costs? It just doesn’t cover the cost of production. We used to chase 2,500 sheep across 5 commons, now we’ve got 700. We have to look at available resource, non-graziers should be farming and be a threat to the agreement. There’s a lot of talk in government about the de minimus payment of £1,200, it’s those little pony paddocks that aren’t active farmers that cause environmental damage. I do think home farm should be tied to common on low level cross compliance for some control and then big payments to control peat and probably paid by some management group.

  • I think X explained it more eloquently I agree with his analysis about a Dartmoor board. I’m not worried if it’s split into two sections but I think it has to have sufficient representation by agencies if it’s going to be accepted by Defra. I think you probably would end up having to have representatives from NE, Commoners Council, National Park, your statutory agencies. Then you’d need farmer representation on it. I’m a tiny bit torn because absolutely I’d like to see representation on it but I also know the NGO and wildlife trusts have so much power and are so professionally represented that it could end up being controlled by them. So carefully look at whether farmers sit on it or sit in an advisory capacity using professional administrators. I don’t believe there’s anyone in government at the minute that I can say are real administrators. As much as you have owners that can stop burning you have commoners that can prevent an agreement by not signing in. Could you use Commoners Council powers to force people to sign agreements by restricting an individuals stocking rate. I can see some interesting debates about that. I absolutely get the point about people being able to trash one common whilst taking agreement money on another but I can think of it happening between home farms and commons. Neither of them are right so something that looks at the whole picture holistically, board of trust or whatever, that’s the only way that I can see that you can overcome those problems. How that board would be structured I think you need a lot of discussion but I don’ think that’s us to decide.

  • Just talking about this management board I’ve come across areas where the UK government contracts out the management of things like development projects or research spending so what you would typically have is a whole load of entities, companies, public bodies or NGOs who can bid for the contract to manage the money and then it’s managed in a hands on, frequent overview by someone from a government agency. So the civil servant is seeing monthly reports, observing meetings, talking frequently to the managing contractor and signing off payments. One way that’s quite often done in these things is that you have a technical board but all of the finances go through a different entity so when the technical board says payment is due someone else makes the payment. For Dartmoor it wouldn’t be appropriate to go out for an open tender, it would have to be negotiated, created but that model of a board, some kind of joint venture with the Commoners Council was the technical side, something like the National Park could be the financial side. Just to tie up with what we’ve been discussing before and this issue about people holding each other to ransom. The problem we have in Britain is that we’re not very good in keeping to agreements, we think we have one with NE/RPA and then it changes. It’s not good and it’s not reliable. If you take something like the Chinese are actually extremely good at sticking to agreements, they will honour it whatever happens because to them an agreement is an agreement. So whatever we have going forward it needs to have the financial clout that we don’t have at the moment. So for example on our common is someone does some burning in the wrong place they don’t get penalised, if someone stops it they don’t get penalised and both of those things are wrong if that’s what’s in the agreement. We’re not serious about it. It’s too fuzzy and it’s too localized, it becomes a thing between families, and that’s why its got to be a higher level thing but that person has to be not too much of an outsider because they have to understand the locality, but not so local because it becomes personal. That’s why Dartmoor wide is the right scale.

Notes from the third meeting of the Dartmoor Test & Trial (T&T) Project Board (PB) which took place via video call on the 3rd September.

Almost all members were present: Russell Ashford (DHFP), Eamon Crowe (NE), Philip French (DaCC), Chris Giles (DNPA), Tom Stratton (DCOA) and John Waldon (independent & Chair). Kevin Bishop was unable to attend but replaced by Ally Kohler (DNPA), and Harriet Bell, Dartmoor ELMs Project Officer, in attendance.

CG: Budget - no change as between quarters but having followed up on the question of whether funding underspent from last year can be brought into this year it’s unlikely and, given the small amount, probably not a worthwhile endeavour.

HB: Project Update

Project Officer updated the group on latest Advisory Team sessions and challenge around blended finance.

Payment by results

  • Payment by results discussed locally for over 10 year and acceptance of payments by results but concerns over its applicability to commons and moorland. How do you ensure reward to those who deliver action within a collective?

  • Don’t dumb down innovation to fall in line with the latest ministers inclination, we should still reach for the sky and be ambitious

Commons agreements

Project Officer looked to group for guidance as believes this is likely to be a challenging and difficult topic and would welcome any input/experience/guidance as the Advisory Team commences working through looking at how commons agreements could work under ELMs. In particular the PO raised concern that there did not seem to be any single organisation who could take on this role which has the full trust of the stakeholder community and that, often, agreements seemed to be largely a source of a breakdown in both trust and communications. PO updated on some of the thoughts to date such as one agreement for the whole of Dartmoor and having a new management body, which might also link to blended finance and distributing money.

  • Just handing out a pot is never going to deliver value for money especially if the process of distributing the money is not precise and confirmed.

  • How to distribute money based on work delivery has been a challenge throughout AE schemes (for 25 years). Defra want a simple system. Govt. would seem inclined to give the money to anyone in order not to have to deal with the situation themselves. The RPA have offered to engage on this topic.

  • Individual farm agreements where the commons is an additional bolt on might be an area to explore. The link to the home farm was explored at the start of the ESA but not progressed as the links were not always clear. 25 years later we might be better placed to explore and develop this idea.

  • There is a real concern that we may get to a point where the politicians won’t pay on common land because it’s too hard.

  • We have to have something ready relating to carbon and water etc. because they are the real selling points, but it’s the payments for outcomes relating to land management that are difficult. The idea of capital payments linked to public goods and having pots of money for delivery needs exploring. We need to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past because the farming community won’t forgive us for that.

  • We’re on a trajectory of the scorecard, which is a good one; we need to look at some suggested broad structures for the commons. We should be reinforcing the message to Defra now about the importance of the common to the home farms so that they don’t lose sight of that. If we used the scorecard approach then a base level of points could be offered to all commons. The scheme at a basic level needs to cover and ensure farm viability.

  • On Dartmoor we have considerable experience (good and bad) in administering schemes, we need to use this experience.

  • Would payment in arrears based on what has been demonstrably delivered mitigate the risk?

JW: Exeter University

Exeter University have been commissioned by Defra (ELMs development team) to gather information on collaborative working. They have selected Dartmoor Farming Futures as a case study. Interviews with farmers engaged in DFF are underway.


Heritage Fund Logo

© Dartmoor Hill Farm Project. 

Duchy of Cornwall Logo
Princes Countryside Fund Logo
Dartmoor National Park Authority Logo