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  • Harriet Bell

Making ELMS work the commons - reviewing proposed board outlines

A sub-group of our advisory team have been discussing in-depth the management approach to ELM for the Commons and now slightly more Dartmoor as an area/specific landscape/National Park.

Their last discussion, on October 19th, was worked up into a proposed structure for a new ELM/landscape Board and how that might relate to existing Commons Associations or other farmer groups. You can read all about that here:

On the 29th they gathered virtually to review the proposed structures. Three suggestions were also made about how the board might be constituted ahead of the call.

Suggestion A

13 total members

1- Independent Chair/facilitator

6 - Dartmoor farmers and land owners, including one DCOA rep

1 - Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA)

1- Environment Agency (EA)

1 - Natural England (NE)

1 - Forestry Commission (FC)

1 - Dartmoor Commoner's Council (DCC)

1 - Devon County Council

Suggestion B

11 total members

1 – Independent Chair/facilitator

4 – Dartmoor farmers and land owners, balanced as far as possible but always including at least one farmer and one common owner

1 – Duchy representative

1 – Tenant Farmers Association representative

1 – DCOA representative

1 – Dartmoor Commoners’ Council representative

1 – DNPA representative

1 – NE representative

Plus statutory non-voting attenders

- FC representative - adviser

- EA representative - adviser

- Devon County Council - observer

- Recreational users representative – adviser(?)

Additional non-voting resources, probably from academia

- Peat specialist

- Hydrologist

- Archaeologist

- Climate change specialist

Suggestion C

13 total members

1- Independent Chair/facilitator

4 - Representatives from government or statutory bodies

4 - Representatives from the Dartmoor farming/commoning/land owner community

4 - Representatives from the Dartmoor stakeholder community

In addition a draft of Policy Governance principles edited to better reflect ELM has been circulated to aid the understanding of how the model works:

ELM Policy Governance Approach
Download PDF • 302KB

Some ideas from the Netherlands were also sent around the group:,and%20maintain%20the%20farmland%20landscape.

Discussion notes:

  • Step in the right direction, not perfect. Enforcement, the Dutch Cooperative take a slightly different approach in that they have this buffer, they have additional land, like points in an HLS scheme, a pot of money to take into account if somebody is bad. Expect people to be good in the first instance but have something there to absorb what’s wrong. The other thing is that they have the “front door / back door principle” at the front door the govt. signs the contract with the group setting the agri-environment targets and the agreement's objectives, at the backdoor the cooperative contract with individual land users at field level to deliver the landscape level. So similar but different to what we already have. Where you have Tier 1, 2 and 3 maybe Tier 1 is the asset being the common, a non-grazing perspective doing things to get a payment and then Tier 2 is the collaborative.

  • I think the Dutch model has some merits, I’m not convinced about the cooperative work route working as well in this country as it appears to be in the Netherlands, they have a long history of cooperatives in farming, a long history and culture of cooperation. I do see the principles of a delivery board doing much the same things. I very much like that their approach classes their cooperatives as a professional organization with professional administration. I think I thought of a board as more regionalized than they have it. I prefer a more targeted area. How you set it up, some of the suggestions we have here about who is on the board. Frankly, you could say that consists solely of statutory agencies or if you go down the cooperative route someone has to set it up. I like the MAFF system with direct input into MAFFs regional set up, that’s the key, an organization that’s local, run professionally but with direct access. What worries me about it being run by farmers and landowners is the pressure of NGOs to have seats on it and the number of meetings we go to with professional representatives from those organisations. I wonder if we’re better to stick to statutory with a regional Director of a regional panel, one person answerable to our questions.

  • I sort of read what we got through, that’s fine. This sort of framework presumably needs to work not just for Dartmoor but for other areas as well? It has to work for all. Those people who sit on that board is key and the framework they have to work by is key, that’s set out pretty well. You don’t want too many people on that board and you don’t want it to meet too often, it should be able to see problems coming. I wouldn’t want one person as a go to man because if you fall out with them you’ve got problems. If we’re designing for Dartmoor are we designing for just the Commons or for the whole of Dartmoor? If it’s just for the National Park line we need a subcommittee with a focus on the Commons, if you can crack the Commons everything else is easy.

  • I very much agree with the previous point. I think who sits on the Board is really key and I think it’s difficult to balance it because of who wants to sit on it. It would be easy to end up with more statutory bods and NGOs than land managers and their view just getting overruled. I would not like the idea of single go to person. If you’ve got the wrong person, and we know how people keep changing, and if there’s no continuity how’s it going to work? I can see the reasoning behind it being the National Park boundary but we’ve got to consider what happens to those on the boundary. I think it’s very difficult how you do it because you’ve got to have some sort of continuity rather than two separate agreements on different parts of your farm.

  • Just to say I think if there’s to be opportunity for Tier 3 you’d need this Dartmoor wide board and then that can be broken down however. As to who is on the board I think the wildlife lot, whoever, shouldn’t necessarily be a threat because if a project makes sense on the ground then it should make sense and its people’s job to negotiate and make sure that everyone’s coming from the same place if we’re delivering public goods. Better to include everyone rather than have them as stumbling blocks. Going back to the previous point about not having the culture of cooperatives maybe this an opportunity to create a culture and that’s a good thing.

  • You talked about “remember this is overarching” about it being everybody, then I wrote who has a stake and how high is that stake. EA isn’t very high, NE lets not comment, FC isn’t very high, Commoner’s Council has got to be higher, what do they get from the common and what do they do for the common. If you had guiding principles about who is important, if you drive to a majority decision the thing that stops it then is empowerment, that empowerment to that overarching management board, how will they get it? You’re not allowed to just empower people these days, at the minute it falls back to EU law, UK law. Coming back to the boundaries we have farms in the South Hams with Common rights, they could be really nice beautiful farms, they have common rights and a duty of care, they are part of our cultural landscape, so how do you bring in a cushty lowland farm alongside a hill farm? How do you balance that? So, maybe the boundaries need to be flexible? Maybe they’ll be parts to this? Graziers and non-graziers? A degree of flexibility in the areas we encompass because I’m still not happy linking my home farm to a commons agreements. The other thing we come back to on the management board is those Nolan principles. There’s a school of thought that says Tier 1 would have to include the whole farm, the second school of thought is that in order to get into Tier 2 you have to get into Tier 1. So perhaps for us the recommendation is that common land agreements jump straight into Tier 2?

  • You mentioned the Glover review, when I looked at that and they talk about changing governance the first thing that occurred to me was well, in the context, if you go to directly elected local authorities you may end up with no farmers at all, a National Park dominated by people with much more conservation agenda if they go to locally elected authorities. It flies in the face of a balanced board. I agree with the point of it not just being one person, there needs to be a balanced approach. As to cross border farms, even cross border commons, there’s no, yes there is an administrative issue but if it’s a Dartmoor wide, which is the best chance of getting most money because Dartmoor is promoted, so you’re more likely to get more money than a more unrecognized area, so you can’t have farms split but if they’re in different administrative areas the payment could be administered by whichever body the farmstead is in. Ultimately how much power is a local delivery board going to have? Even in the Dutch model, at the very end, it said they were in danger of becoming a delivery board for their government. We want a locally flexible policy and a delivery board with flexibility so we don’t get decisions based on Northumberland stocking rates.

  • So going on the boundary thing obviously we’ve got ground outside and inside so I suppose the way we operate Dartmoor Farmers is that as long as you’re farming within the park you’re in. In terms of the way it works would be that applies to everyone, in order to access Tier 2 and 3 that’s where you get your collaborative working, bigger money and effect so you could get involved in all sorts of things so perhaps it’s worth separating Tiers rather than areas. In terms of the board, what happens on the ground should be led by the people on that area on these farms, so you have an idea about this bit of woodland, try this thing, you should be able to go ahead and try it with their support, led from the bottom up, whether that’s common or a half dozen farmers, the board isn’t a dictatorship but the facilitation vehicle. I think yes to the two grey boxes [how the proposed structures for Dartmoor Board and Commons Association were represented in a word document] nailing the difference and if it does that that’s fine.

  • I want to say the previous speaker has got it, I was looking at it the wrong way round, it’s going to be bottom up led. If the boards’ are setting the objectives it needs to be achievable by farmers. We could mitigate this risk by getting the balance on the board right. I’ve seen others set impractical objectives. Just to confirm there are commons both inside and out of the National Park boundary.

  • I think the home farms should have the opportunity to be awarded Tier 3, without being attached to a wider landscape, you’re still contributing to the whole. The bigger the better. The home farms by virtue of supplying the tools for what goes on the common should be rewarded.

  • This business about linking home farm and common, it would be really sad if the whole of the home farm had to be in Tier 1 for the commons agreement to proceed. We’d achieve more enrolling the common, if the majority was in. I think the same thing applies if we don’t necessarily have to link for the home farm. Lets see what could be achieved without enrolling everything. Blended finance, it might be that commons owners got a better deal outside of this but if an owner was to have a pretty good deal with SWW or whomever are we right to stand in their way? We’re not here to impinge on other people’s businesses. On the first grey box about control, it might be back to the Netherlands where we have a buffer, where individuals are signed into agreements with the payment body, so they might be part of the collective but they’re liable back there. Maybe it’s about, go back to the beginning of HLS, we were really keen as a collective to deliver something, really excited about working with our project officer on our shared vision, we were a good association that listened to each other supported by a good project officer. If we felt safe in the knowledge of what we’re trying to achieve without this risk of this huge financial penalty, you can’t see what’s coming, and that’s not a nice working environment so if you improve the working condition and partnerships we could deliver something far better.

  • On the previous point of how you control non-cooperative I wonder myself, I don’t see it as being as much of an issue. We have to face the fact BPS is disappearing and if individuals won’t cooperate on commons, can’t get agri-environment on their home farm or another common, if the sanction is they might lose all that payment I think the number of people who would be financially able to mess up a commons agreement would be few and far between. So I don’t see it as being as much of an issue. The Commoner’s Council is the ultimate legal body to control grazing as a last resort. The composition needs considerable discussion. I wouldn’t favour Devon County Council being involved, people like them and possibly the FC would be better as outside advisors. How many farmers you have involved is also, you can’t get too big or it gets unwieldy to manage so you have to be careful how it’s constructed, it has to be effective and professionally administrated. The most important thing about the board is that it’s answerable and delivering on its policies with what’s required outside from the delivery area.

  • I’m in agreement with what everyone’s been saying, I sent my bit about the composition and what’s just been said is what I reflected in it, local control is what’s important but what’s critical is that the board has the resources to engage, employ and supervise good administrators. I think that on Dartmoor we have the resources to manage it properly and have that contract with NE to deliver. I think the previous speaker is right about the absence of BPS that this is the lining process because there won’t be any other financial buffer, we’re all dependent on a scheme like this, so there’s a self-leveling element. It will be good once we see the scorecard to gel how this works and certainly this difficulty about linking home farms and commons is always going to be complicated. I think one thing that possibly needs to be stated is that you don’t necessarily need to have a contiguous area between home farms and commons, that shouldn’t matter if you’re working towards common aim that should be fine.

  • There’s an awful lots of issues of trust and baggage from the last 30 years. We’ve got to find a way forward with the board but they do need to be professional to have the tools to make things work because at the moment a lot of the local associations don’t have the ability to manage commons.

  • I just wanted to confirm, I thought we’d put to bed that the home farms are a separate agreement? My comment earlier was that the home farm qualifying for Tier 3 was that it should get uplift on the home farm for being in a higher level Commons agreement.

  • We keep saying we’re parking the home farm and common relationship. Under BPS you got BPS and then you got an agreement. What you can sign your home farm into is very much how the common is run. You can’t mess yourself up on the home farm to further a commons agreement so we have an issue of how we manage the two.

  • Once we’ve got the scorecard what might be useful is try out an exercise on part of the moor somewhere and see how the agreement might work. [This is what will happen.]

  • Picking up on professional teams for the governing body, it’s a mixed bag, so perhaps it should be a paid management thing, where it’s professional we’ve got to keep knowledge local.

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