I will hold my hands up and say that the scorecard is not progressing as quickly as we'd hoped and we're a bit behind. However, we're currently, touch wood, on a good run and we thought it was about time we updated everyone on progress.
Cast your minds back to the summer and you may recall that the Advisory Team and Dartmoor farming community at large was asked whether a Land Management Plan for the Commons, which also worked for home farms, should be based on a scorecard approach, a mapping approach or an advisor based approach. To which the answer delivered by the Advisory Team was all three:
- Have an overarching scorecard, covering all 6 of the public goods targets identified by Defra (Clean Air/Clean & Plentiful Water/Thriving Plants and Wildlife/Beauty Heritage and Engagement/ Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change/ Protection from and mitigation of Environmental Hazards). This overarching system should identify what the best scenario is and different stages towards achieving that using evidence based indicators.
- The scorecard has an accompanying mapping system.
- Farmers have the option of drawing on advice and support to guide their management in order to perform well against the scorecard or they can rely on their own knowledge and experience or some combination of the two.
We commissioned the Organic Research Centre (ORC) to develop the scorecard on a design brief that it should be as clear, concise and easy to use as possible.
The ORC were given a list of actions/activities related to public good delivery to form the basis of the scorecard. The list was drawn up in conversation with the Advisory Team about each of the public goods and at the few farmer meetings we've managed to squeeze in between lockdowns.
We've then approached a number of organisations working on Dartmoor to help us identify which indicators would provide evidence of public goods delivery. Ideally these indicators are incontrovertible, the way the scorecard would work is that a farmer submits their evidence for a 12 month period and then gets paid accordingly. This annual system takes away any concern of payments for previous years needing to be reclaimed but it all hangs on having quality evidence.
Input was sought from organisations like the Westcountry Rivers Trust, RSPB, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, to name some, and the National Park team itself.
The full indicator list in January was just under 300 items in number.
Now our clear brief from the Advisory Team was to keep it simple but we have a couple of issues:
1. Dartmoor, particularly its habitats, is complex and not simple
2. Any indicators we remove are potentially costing a farmer the opportunity to identify an element of public good delivery which, under the system we're proposing, reduces the financial value the scorecard represents to that farmer
Since January we've been trying to work with everyone involved in creating the list to edit it down, so that we only keep indicators of true value.
Our first attempt at this was not particularly successful. Arguably 20 people on one video call going through the full indicator list probably wasn't a great idea (thank you COVID for taking away any chance of an in person workshop). We also needed to recognise that we'd put a lot of time in with the farmer Advisory Team having presentations on this approach, looking at international models and discussing the details and we hadn't put that level of engagement effort in to the non-farmers who've come to our aid. So we were still grappling with some confusion about how the scorecard model would work. Plus, several scorecard models exist but this one will be custom created for Dartmoor so there is a degree of learning by doing which can be uncomfortable for us all. What we're now doing is breaking the scorecard apart thematically and having a series of 2-3 hour mini-meetings looking at indicators for each theme and this seems to work much better. We have three of these meetings left, all on Thriving Plants and Wildlife, taking us to the last week of February.
Then we will draw all the indicators back together again, make a decision about the best scorecard structure and then take it out to test in the real world with a number of Commons who've been invited to take part in the trial, which includes Harford and Ugborough and several other commons.
Understanding how much this change in farming payment means to farm businesses taking the scorecard out is a slightly terrifying prospect, which constantly leads one to think of the quote "Expectations are just resentments waiting to happen".
The first draft, probably the second, will not be good enough. The biggest part of testing it will be in identifying its flaws so we know if we can feedback to Defra that something like this, with more time to improve it, would be a good system, or if actually we've tried, we've tested and it turns out its not for us after all. Both options are valid learning for a Test & Trial.