Dartmoor Board discussion - whole Advisory Team sense check
The idea of a Dartmoor board for the delivery of ELMs has risen organically over several discussions during this Test & Trial but its been specifically worked up by a sub-group over the most recent weeks so we thought it was time to bring back the work that's been done to the whole Advisory Team for a sense check.
This was also an opportunity to see if any Team member felt that the board should clearly defined by excluding from its potential remit some of the topics covered by ELM. There were no objections to the board potentially having scope over: spatial priority setting, common land ELM management plans, advice or blended finance.
Our journey’s evolved and I think we’ve realised as we’ve gone on we picked up issues that we didn’t see coming but this process is as much about the journey as what we get at the end. We were asked when Joss Hibbs presented what options we were putting forward, much of which wasn’t within the remit. We shouldn’t miss an opportunity to put things under people’s noses. The Norfolk Broads discussion highlighted that they’ve come up with a list of options which is appropriate to them. We may be going off on tangents but lets not miss an opportunity.
We’re sat here to examine what governance and social structure must look like but we must come up with something which works for every group across the country. We’ve talked about structure and goals but I think the structure needs to be fed down ultimately from the Test and Trials. We’ll put it together, take it apart and put it back together again to give us a framework so we’re not redesigning the wheel every time. So I suppose however its set up it needs to fit all scenarios.
I think it’s important to remember that one of our big issues that we’ve been trying to address is that fact that NE have been trying to run schemes from a very high level looking at national indicators and this has been a bad experience for everyone involved and that one of the answers that seems to make sense is to try and find a way of bringing things down to a local level with people who understand Dartmoor much better and can set targets which fit in this landscape and I think the cost of managing that locally would be significant but it’s probably worth it if it’s going to deliver value for money on public funding. Without that local intermediary, or relatively local, I’m not sure this will deliver any more than ESA which has been full of flaws and hasn’t achieved what it was set out to do. So that underlines a lot of our thinking on the need for a board and to have a lot of power.
The boards a great idea because a lot of us spend a lot of time thinking about similar issues on different groups. Talking about governance even if it’s not strictly in our brief is critical if we can get it right. It’s really important that we feedback our experience on Dartmoor of where things have gone well and where things haven’t.
Should we talk about the Defra suggestion that this should be done at a County level?
Dartmoor is so unique and so very, very different to the South Hams. Whether you were to have an overarching board and then a sub-board, is the link more to do with common land and upland anywhere in the country? In the past we’ve complained we’re not like any other upland. It’s about identifying the unique. We are very, very different to lowland, coastal farms, saltmarsh etc.
I would agree with the previous point, something Dartmoor based is more appropriate than county based. I would sooner that we tried to build strong links with upland areas, particularly if they have commons, because that’s so complicated, rather than thinking about how this has to work on a saltmarsh or whatever. I would like to see governance from Dartmoor rather than the county and link in.
I fully agree with what’s just been said so one thing we might think about is the three moors team that’s existed in the past, do we have anything in common with Exmoor and Bodmin? The problem with Dartmoor when you come to administer a scheme is that it leaves a big Dartmoor hole in the middle with all the lowland around it. For someone not from Devon it doesn’t make sense so I’m worried the whole concept gets shot down just because Dartmoor is right in the middle of the county.
It’s the fact that the structure of the boards fits everywhere and what goes underneath it and what we administer is unique to us. Dartmoor is a big hole in the middle of Devon and taking us out leaves everyone at a disadvantage. There will be areas on the fridges that have a lot to offer us and is it the case we’ll be left to be a bit organic and grow our own areas and people fall through the net and loose funding?
I come to it from the point that the existing system isn’t working so we really have to try and come up with something different, so in relation to the point about Dartmoor specifically so I think our link and what we should be emphasizing is common land which produces its own unique set of difficulties which need specifically looking at. So yes this broad structure could be rolled out to non-commoning areas to govern cooperation but commons are a different area so that would be my point that commons needs specifically looking at. If you were looking at diverse counties you could argue Yorkshire is even more diverse than Devon.
If we could have this conversation without the heavy clouds which are over us, empowerment by the wrong people, if those clouds were all lifted and we could have a Dartmoor board that was balanced and trusted and set priorities for Dartmoor realising what the bigger picture was. I do think that you need paid people on the board so that they deliver the service we tell them to. I have a fear that a board could be influenced so that’s stopping me free thinking. The talk is out there that the National Park are the best people, they might be but we need to be free thinking and unbiased, like an open book.
I’m in agreement
Transparency is what is so missing at the minute, we’re going down a road and none of us know what we’re supposed to be doing, Natural England apparently do but we don’t.
I think it would be empowering to have a board if its role, members and brief are designed with accountability. I think it would be a mistake to put all our eggs in one basket. The potential of ELMs is to let those on the ground shape what they do. We need to balance structure and direction with free thinking and action so owners and farmers can move forward and do the things they haven’t been able to because of the manner of the schemes in which things are set.
Policy Governance makes logical sense in terms of having that clear structure and accountability so I felt, from my experience, that all made absolute sense. It comes back to clarifying what is this board going to do.
I was just going to comment that I still think there’s quite a bit of discussion needed about how the board is created and structured and who is on it but I felt we got a reasonable way in terms of what its role might be. The presentation from Andy was interesting but maybe easier because they’re a national organisation? I was intrigued that they now felt the board, including the executive, recommended who should sit on it, might be seen as undemocratic?
I did have time to read the Defra paper you sent through and this convenors role they’re talking about worried me, one person per area, and the mention that National Parks thought they were in a strong position worried me, that they would have control on the priorities worries me. It could be a role for an administrator to draw it together but drawing on the expertise needed, the skill set needed to do this is vast, the topics needed to draw on are vast.
That paper reflected people not understanding how the countryside works and the need to bring people together. They went straight to authorities not recognising the layers of management and skill you would go through before you get to those groups.
The way that I see it, in a way we are like the current board and you’re like our Chief Exec. We’re all unpaid, the board definitely has to be on an equal footing. Being involved with the NSA [National Sheep Association], when you talk about where you draw your members from, it has to be done in the most democratic and open way possible or you’ll find yourselves in trouble. Our job at the moment is to direct them in the way we want to go. As important as the Board is going to be I think it’s our job to make sure we’re going in the right direction before George Eustice decides it all for us.
I think it goes back to the start of this process where we all agreed a Dartmoor board would be a great idea. What’s happened since then is that without engaging fully in the governance of the board you can’t actually define its activities and where its going. Getting into the details is a little premature given the variety of organisations already out there that already have a vested interest in what happens on Dartmoor being done in their preferred manner. Unless we’re very clear in its roles and responsibilities all you’re doing is creating another layer of bureaucracy and a fall guy going up and downwards. When large organisations want to deliver something unpleasant they’ll pass it through the board. Unless there is clear structure and governance about how it’s going to work they’ll fall over. The more people on it the harder it will be to get consensus. I’m supportive of the board but its accountable to a management board, as I understand it, so they’re effectively told what’s going to happen. Without any teeth, without any structure there could be a lot of time spent which will be usurped by those existing organisations. We need to be very, very robust in terms of structures if it’s going to work.
When I was referring to the presentation by Andy I just thought it was interesting that his organisation felt they could recommend new people to their board. I wouldn’t favour that option at all, I consider it undemocratic. There is a danger the board could be influenced by outside bodies but actually we’re already seeing that, some of those making the decisions are already being influenced by those kinds of people, that’ a real danger that they don’t get hold of the board but equally it’s already a problem. So we need to try and make sure that it’s structured in a way that makes sure that’s countered.
A research question should not have pre-conceived answers, we’ve been set a research question so we’re going where we’re going. Previous point touched on influence, so blended finance could determine direction of travel for a project. Land owners may well be offered their own projects, a company may approach them to invest in water or peat or something we don’t have a right to. We don’t have a right to interfere with business. So you can’t expect a landowner to give up a business opportunity just because it’s common land, we have to square that one.
With respect to blended finance this is a huge opportunity for Dartmoor. The question that’s been asked is “what’s wrong with the Commons”? We have a broken water cycle and water is something we deliver to the entire county. Here we have an opportunity to fix the water cycle and get paid for it and graziers own the tools to fix the problem. Graziers may not own the common but you own the tools and I think water is going to be a massive, massive part of this so I think blended finance will be a massive part of this. I see it all as a massive opportunity, I mean, landscape as well, I think a lot of the pessimism creeping in through dealing with commons councils or whatever but yes, much as I don’t particularly want another tier of bureaucracy hopefully someone with brains can figure out how to reshuffle things so it could be doable. I can’t stress enough the opportunity, the importance of the timing, this imperfect storm. I think if we get our houses in gear it can be sorted nicely for everyone.
I can see the board providing a platform for blended finance opportunities but unless it has another arm I can’t see if having capacity to deal with the complicated deals which are going to be needed with multiple of different partners. I think the market will dictate that where the schemes are big enough they’ll become their own project. We need to be realistic. We do need some kind of introductory agency for blended finance, particularly for the smaller farms. A lot of the blended finance opportunities are coming outside the main tool of regional partners. A lot of the interest in peat and carbon is emerging from far beyond Dartmoor. I can see the board definitely having a role, the question is to what extent.
Just to go back to a previous point. You’re right that we need to be robust about how we discuss the role of this board, I think that one way to do that might be to present it as an implementing agency for working in an outsourced way on behalf of Natural England which is a perfectly good form of governance and used for many activities. So I think if its seen as providing the service on behalf of government that should be ok. On the blended finance, it’s quite a big thing globally but often it comes down to the issue of scale so I think some kind of entity is required to tie in not just farms but also smaller commons. It’s interesting the Duchy has some experience because of course they’re got the scale no one else has on Dartmoor. These opportunities on Dartmoor are often overlapping ,peat bogs are often divided between different commons so it’s quite possible that groups of commons could work together to attract blended finance. It probably needs to be a subsidiary opportunity for the board, not a major thing for them o be involved in. We need to have another discussion on how owners and commoners are going to work together going forward, we’ve touched on it in previous meetings but I don’t think it’s something commoners need to fear just that we need to find a way forward.
The board would need to be consulted about any blended finance but you wouldn’t’ want a project to parachute in and undermine work that’s been done. The board would need almost a veto, set parameters for that blended finance.
I want to say thank you for the subgroup to doing all of the work on this.