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Group of people on a hillside

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Jenny  Walking Sheep Up Street
Jenny Walking Sheep Up Street

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Beekeepers examining a frame of bees

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  • Harriet Bell

Making ELMs work for the Commons III

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.

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