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  • Harriet Bell

ELMs - a fresh start for Commons agreements?

As the Dartmoor Test and Trial one of our key objectives is obviously to look at how ELMs might work on commons, particularly the delivery of ELMs Land Management Plans. One of our specific research elements is to look at whether more can be done to link the administration of stewardship schemes between home farms and commons.


Our Advisory Team got all the reasons why is doesn't work currently and won't work in the future off their chests in a discussion on the 3rd September. They were given a weekend to start coming up with all the solutions.


If you are reading this as someone who is not a commoner or who does not work in this particular area I feel I ought to pass on to you what was said to me when I took on the role of facilitating this test and trial - no one has managed to make stewardship agreements work for commons for the last 25 years (and I emphasise this is different from commoners who are often able to rise to this challenge and deliver despite a framework which may not be ideally suited to them). This is something both the Project Board and the Advisory Team for this Test & Trial agree on, which does make the task ahead feel a little daunting.


Notes from the discussion:


- I’ve heard rumours that Defra don’t want to deal with Commons rights and that’s understandable and then I thought maybe it’s about commons ownership. If support payments are moving to outputs…[no taker couldn't keep up] The only way it can work is if individuals enroll as individuals into a central scheme. So the conclusion I came to is about individuals bidding against each other about what they do and at what price but that will destroy a community, people bidding against each other, but then I thought this is where government want us to go. I see it as a solution but we must not let that happen on Dartmoor because the most important thing on the common is community.


- That’s a scenario we’ve not looked at but I suppose that’s because we’ve only looked at how things are. How do landowners feel, do you want to take this on and then employ us?


- We all know that BPS is going to be phased out but if we’re going to maintain the viability of home farms on Dartmoor or any other area it’s critical that all the parties involved work together to best affect. I can see we’re going to have to look more closely, area by area, on outcomes, and it is going to be more difficult to agree money but it’s incumbent on strong relationships between landowners and the farming community because there is a greater need for us to work together as we look at differing issues to grazing.


- Following on from that, from a small land owner perspective, a lot of the public goods like carbon, more trees, better infiltration they’re activities which are long term in nature to achieve the real benefits and I don’t really understand why Natural England doesn’t want to work with common rights because it’s not something we can get away from. There’s a bigger than ever need to work together because it’s a long term activity. If a land owner decides they want to have tree planting or whatever they can only do it in collaboration with the graziers because it requires certain management. There are lots of benefits which could be derived but it all depends on the way the common is managed, it’s got to be a joint activity, it’s got to be a long term one and the derivation of benefits need to be thought out. That’s going to depend on the localities, within each common there will be some areas where you can do something, some where you can do something else. I think it’s essential that it’s got to be a joint activity, not so much about ownership of carbon or whatever but how we manage the moor jointly in the long term to achieve that to make sure everyone gets reasonable benefit.


- It seems to me this is a doomsday scenario but what’s stopping the landowners achieving the public goods without need of the graziers, what’s stopping you taking all the money?


- Defra wants to support active management.


- I don’t think owners can deliver this without farmer support. It has to be a joint thing and it’s also about community. There may be the odd landowner who doesn’t give a damn about community but that’s only going to be a tiny minority, I think ultimately it’s community based collaboration that’s got to take priority.


- I think the potential for Defra is all they’ve got to do is give the money to the landowner and the landowner divvies it out, that’s a worry for the farmer, I’m thinking pretty far out.


- That’s a genuine question but say it was you and me and I get the money and don’t give you any. You graze your livestock on my trees I won’t get the payments so without collaboration and trust I don’t see there’s a way that, even if the landowners are responsible, there’s a way it could work.


- I’d agree entirely.

- I was just thinking about why I think commons agreements do not work overly well. I think two of the big issues are SSIs and NE saying all of them have to be in favourable condition because that’s totally unrealistic, you want the majority in good condition. The other thing is having boundaries that are lines on maps because stock don’t look at maps. Would they work better if commons agreements were based on physical boundaries? I find that a fairly horrifying thought from an administrative perspective because then you’re taking in masses of land. However, if that could result in net gain because middle of the commons are less grazed and the home commons are more grazed.


- Defra may be saying whoever manages the land should get the payment but the RPA really loathe common rights so if it’s about removing that link to common rights that’s the sticking point. Currently everything is linked to common rights, it’s a huge shift but we have to take that out of the equation and make everyone an equal. I quite like the idea of a parish level because it would bring everyone in who has a link to the common. We have considerable diversity within a parish. I recognize the previous point about stock not looking at lines on the map. I come back to this what can you bring. This might mean that smaller graziers can have a bigger part to play. Maybe it will increase the numbers of active graziers on the common. We need to take the payments away from this strong link to commons rights.


- The trouble is with doing it on a parish basis is that’s still lines on a map. With what I’m suggesting when I put my administrators hat on having an agreement over a big area you’d need to be paying people to run it.

- I can certainly see the merit in going for natural boundaries. Then if you look at Dartmoor the only way we’d be able to divide it is roughly in half. It’s just about feasible. In some ways although it becomes administratively more difficult it takes away much more local issues. I’m not involved in the Forest but I don’t know if because it’s bigger that takes away some of the local issues, I think there could be advantages. I strongly favour professional administrators, NE are not administrators, you have to pay someone to do that work and then trust them to do it. I still like the model MAFF ran 20/30 years ago when it was much more localized but I’m dubious if government will turn the clock back to that level of responsibility. With a local group of advisory farmers. I favour that sort of model.


- Defra only pay BPS on common allocations because they want to pay on an area basis but agri-enrvionment has been on a per ha basis. It’s just that when we come to allocate the payments we use rights and I think we’d struggle to get anything else out there. We have the four quarters of Dartmoor mapped out and ok that’s lines on maps. The North/South split would probably be a way of running it and also the people in those areas tend to work on the boundary line.


- So this is kind of a question for graziers, what do you plan to do differently that is going to help deliver the 6 public goods? Because are we trying to achieve a greater biodiversity? I agree with what X said, there’s got to be a job out there keeping these animals moving. Could rights give you credits to graze?


- If you have people continuously moving stock on Dartmoor you get chaos.


- I don’t mean continuous.


- In my view what we need to do is create a model which operates across the whole of Dartmoor. A single scheme with a single scoring system which people can fully understand and comprehend. With regards to how we can ensure compliance it’s normally a minority of individuals who want to try their luck. You have to be able to identify those individuals and take away their home farm payment and then they’ll become compliant. You can not consider the non-graziers or they’ll put stock out for the hell of it. A simple basic model to start or it won’t work.

- I have to very much agree with the previous points. I think what I was suggesting was to get away from all these problems where people have the number of stock they’re supposed to it’s just they are crossing commons boundaries. It’s about people coming in with what they can offer, how can they achieve the public goods they can offer. If you can say the middle of the north moor is an area where people don’t want to graze that could go into Tier 3 but because everyone’s involved you can move grazing lower down. So everyone benefits from the restoration potential in the middle of the moor.


- On the back of the previous points we’re potentially trying to deliver something in the areas where we’re told to deliver when if we were far more holistic about it and we mapped where stock went and looked at historic lears. If we took a bottom up approach, we know where something could be delivered, we need to be in the driving seat and tell them, we know what we can do in some places and not in others.

- We can sit here and I appreciate the narrative about severing the money from the rights and the guys with the most units will demand the money, whether we like it or not that’s going to happen. It’s difficult to separate those rights. You’re going to have to have grazing schedules of some description. Otherwise it’s not going to work. The there’s almost a separate money for the capital works, the peat, archeology, that sort of stuff. You cannot separate those units of rights from money because you’d have a mutiny. I’m very much worried about the thought of a parish herd being driven around in circles. We are in danger of becoming busy fools here. We graze those commons because we are farmers, all the rest of it is window dressing. I don’t want to get out there with a hand saw chopping out gorse. That’s not what I want to be paid for. Our main vehicle of delivery is the livestock and you’re not just talking to about the half a dozen of us here. It needs to be a simple framework and I agree Dartmoor wide agreement.

- We’re a bit bogged down if we think we need to deliver something over the whole common. We don’t, it’s not about the same practice over the whole common. It’s about recognizing historic lears. We have delivered public goods, we have to deliver public goods, yes we can do something better but an awful lot of us are doing something now. It’s not about managing everything, sometimes it’s about not managing and allowing something else to happen. We need to identify what we can deliver, in the driving seat but it’s not about micromanagement.


- The reason we’re all here is to hold tight to the farms that are still left because the decline is immense and could get worse. X’s comment on the MAF advisory committee yup but it’s far too much common sense to expect anything like that again. There are a huge number of variables but there are still some constants, commoners and common rights are constant, they go with the land. There was a time when I would say non-graziers, get rid of them, but they have rights and on our parish they have involvement to get the sum that they get. The first ESA meeting I ever went to one of our neighbors said that’s fantastic, split the money equally, if that mentality stays now it will blow the whole thing apart. The trouble is the rights are tied to our commons. I do see all aspects of it but unfortunately whether you like it or not our rights are our rights. At the end of the day a lot of the small graziers it may not be their main income but I can assure you it’s our main income.

- What I meant was a combination of grazing and rest to deliver the public good. I like X’s team/parish approach, breaking it down to people’s skill sets, maybe there’s some kind of points system that can be worked to that. As grazing is the tool to sequester carbon how are graziers are going to be paid/rewarded?


- Listening to what everyone’s been saying I feel that everyone has to be included, non-graziers and graziers, because if you’re only paying graziers the non-graziers will become graziers to get paid. You have to have some form of compensation that brings everyone in. The people who are doing the active management for the tools they’re providing and the work that you’re doing. You would be delivering differently on different bits, the bit that suits and the bits that don’t suit. You cannot get away from people having grazing rights on individual commons so what you would do is take what someone is doing as a whole and recompense what they’re doing and recompensed on what they’re doing on home common and forest, getting rid of the line between each common, hopefully moving away from these arguments about what stock is where. How I was looking at it was you’ve got your home farm, you’ve got common rights, if you’re party to the common agreement you’re delivering public goods on the whole of the North moor if it’s in one agreement. You could even have discrete areas which could be fenced. There’s a lot of glitches in what I’m saying, I’m still thinking it through.


- I’m having a flash back to 20 years ago when we were setting up the ESA. As long as we don’t finish up in the same place. We’ll need some guidance but actually if we’re going to micromanage we’re going to need more flexibility. We’re looking to try and establish a pot of money for an area or areas but what we need to work out is what we’re going to deliver. Learing or hefting stock is a management tool, it is something we as graziers get recognition for. We should all be able to contribute to the bottom layer of a scorecard. Let’s just recognize what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and why we’re there. We’re pastoralists with an environmental bent, out there are environmentalists with no pastoralism or pure pastoralists. A lot of the non-graziers have the ability to frustrate an agreement so we have to be very much aware of what we do and how we treat the non-graziers. Finding the right balance. The commons have assessed it in their own way. We’re having a discussion on about ¾ different levels, we need to start at the bottom, recognition for what we do. If we’re not careful we’re going to be busy idiots. We need the balance between reward for what we do and the giving us some more to do a bit extra. What we have to do is do a risk assessment because we’re best placed to know what’s going to happen.


- We’re lucky on Dartmoor that pretty much everywhere we can provide some public good or other. My preference would be to start on the basis of what you can deliver where, once you’ve worked that out then you can work out how everyone with a stake in it gets paid and at that point you do the risk assessment that was mentioned. In terms of scale, if you want to maintain a community. Can you do that on a Dartmoor wide basis, the bigger it becomes as an entity the less you retain that community. Livestock do recognize lears, the trouble is lears don’t follow map boundaries quite so well and of course there’s also lots of strain. One of the problems is that the grazing rights that are registered is not in the public interest, if they’re all utilized the quality of vegetation declines. Bringing in everyone with grazing rights, grazier or no, has some problems in that respect. On our commons the active graziers are not exercising all of their rights. We’ve got used to having restrictions on grazing in the previous schemes, this may be a different variation. If it becomes too big an institution you risk losing people’s interest in how they manage their common, we’ve got people much more interested in working on getting their commons good. To some extent I don’t care what happens on another common but I do care what happens on mine.


- I had a moment of clarity just now. I see this as a Dartmoor wide agreement with management areas. In terms of Tiers and public goods the commons would, I’d like to think they’d hit most of them, so it’s down to us to prove and do that. If we go back to our three Tiers if you put your units and land owner payment in Tier 1, Tier 2 is the grazing payment and Tier 3 is all the bells and whistles, re-wetting and planting trees. When I looked at it like that it gave clarity to all the conversations we’ve had tonight. I would advocate a Dartmoor wide agreement with management areas, splitting the bigger areas. The division of payment between 1/2/3 are proportionate between every common. The payment framework should be set up from the beginning so Tier one is unit of rights and tier 2 grazing schedule.


- Going back to my personal guiding principles for me common rights are key. We must never ever lose sight of how important they are. Those people who wish to be party to an agreement there must be payment for work done, it cannot be a payment just because. So as a common rights holder we should all share that duty of care. So there’s a payment made in recognition of common rights. The common is graded and we all collect for the basic level on the common, if you want to sign in you have to do something. Then if you’re going to make that common better you get a plus on the monetary option, still linked to common rights, recognizing how important they are. You do more on the common you pick up more money.


- Personally I think it definitely needs to be Dartmoor wide and link to common rights. Thinking back to the early work on the scorecard. I think as far as non-graziers go we must recognize them, especially if they have the ability to stock the moor but there are a number of rights held by people who aren’t farming, probably haven’t set foot on Dartmoor. So if they’re not farmers, no SBI and there’s no positive management coming from them then I don’t think we need to consider them. I feel quite strongly about that. I think it’s one of the major flaws of HLS and ESA was money disappearing to second home owners. A lot of non-used rights were paid for. If you’re grazing and picking up money as a grazier then the number of rights you’re holding is irrelevant really. It’s biased towards people who were greedy back then. It’s the numbers of stock up here now that’s important.

- I was going to endorse the previous point based on the notes from last week. We can’t form a satisfying relationship between a home farm and a common agreement. I think in the notes if you have reached a conclusion to that affect then it would be good to record it. [Note from Project Officer: this conclusion was not reach, the previous discussion was to pull out all the problems with such an approach, future conversations to focus on solutions.] Certainly from my experience it would be difficult. With a management vision for each common with the scorecard system we could develop a really useful set of outcomes we could move forward. From there you could then look at agreed rates for different types of management action which could be paid out through either an association or a larger management body. I can see how there would be benefit to the management of Dartmoor in up-scaling the administration. I think one of the disappointments is there has not been enough human or management resource into care taking these agreements. Having people we can all go to for help and advice, I don’t think we could dismiss trying to secure that. Even it involves us as local partners doing more. If we have that capacity then we can draw in that resource using our own funding and direct that to our benefit, rather than a resource coming wholly from a government agency. The whole idea of the test and trial is to work out what we’d like to see and what is needed. With that scorecard, management vision, with agreement you then move out from your basic management delivery up the tiers.


- Everyone’s covered almost everything I wanted to say just, very quickly, on a Dartmoor wide agreement what I was thinking was split into management areas grouped in blocks of lears where the people work together, like the Forest. Those management areas could cross commons boundaries. That’s a better way of describing what I’m talking about.

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Advisory Team Meeting Notes

The Advisory Team met virtually on the 10th of September with the intention of developing solutions to the problems identified with commons agreements as outlined in this blog: www.dartmoorhillfarmpro

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