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  • Harriet Bell

Template for Commons Agreements

Whilst a key objective of this Test & Trial was to look at Land Management Plans and payment methods for commons what was quite clear, as soon as you start engaging with anyone involved in commons agreements, is that it all comes down to people rather than plans.


Only about 50% of Dartmoor commons are currently in agreement and at the start of this test and trail we spent a lot of time talking about commons agreements with our Advisory Team of farmers/commoners and landowners. The general gist was you try dumping a lot of money on any group of people, then walk away, leaving them to sort out the distribution of it between themselves and see how well it turns out. As one member of the team remarked, "With a completely hands off system I don't think you can expect it to work, it's really a credit to a lot of Commons that it actually works at all."


So we expanded our T&T remit a bit to consider what is the social structure required to make the delivery of land management plans on commons more feasible. We worked with three commons, some in agreement some out, including those with grazing rights as well as some commons owners, and through a series of discussions endeavoured to bottom out how commons agreements should be structured and views were pretty consistent.


The main key outcome was a desire for Defra to provide an internal agreement template, for use by all commons, which sets a clear framework for the distribution of money between all participants within a commons agreement. Thereby taking the social conflict causing burden of the financial decision making process off commons, leaving them to focus on determining and delivering agreement outcomes. This was a view endorsed by the significant majority of participants across all three of the commons taking part in the T&T.


The step by step decision making process discussed by all three commons resulted in a majority consensus that land management plans should be developed along the following lines:


How would commons like to be provided with the information required to develop their land management plan?


General consensus:


  • All stakeholders with a view on the management of Dartmoor should be facilitated to come together to share their desired outcomes for the landscape so that this information is readily accessible, in one place, to commoners and common land owners to inform decision making.


Points made in individual commons discussions:

  • Individual Associations may then choose to follow up with specific stakeholder groups for more detailed information and invite them to present that information to the Association.

  • This process should be overseen by a Dartmoor management board.

  • This process should be overseen by the DNPA but is distinct from the management plan process due to the level of detail required and the emphasis on working with commoners as the co-producers of outcomes.

  • Defra need to set very clear desired outcomes to frame this process, they also need to be transparent about the value of different outcomes.

  • Mapping of what's currently present must be provided.

  • More detailed guidance of what could be done/should be done differently needs to be shared across commons boundaries where they're not physically separate from one another.

  • Having the same facilitator working with commons within a shared landscape helps link up outcomes.


What is the appropriate geographical scale of an agreement?


General consensus:


  • A Commons Association is the appropriate scale for administration of an agreement.

  • Home farm and commons agreements should not be linked.


Points made in individual commons discussions:

  • It should be possible to join commons, where the landscape is contiguous, or divide a common, where it is not a contiguous landscape, if it make agreements more workable.

  • It should be possible exclude areas of the common from being covered by an agreement e.g. where there's a golf course or where an individual landowner doesn't wish to be party to the agreement.


Entering into a Commons Agreement


General consensus:

  • Finance, for facilitation, administration and advice, needs to be available prior to an agreement being in place to support commons entering into an agreement.

  • Individuals, whether commoner or common landowner, should be able to opt in or out of an agreement, providing those opting out are prohibited from negatively impacting agreement outcomes.

  • Once a common has a vision, of what they intend to work towards delivering through their agreement, then a risk assessment must be done to see if the vision is achievable based on who is opting out and who is opting in.

Points made in individual commons discussions:

  • Opting out of one common agreement shouldn't prevent people, with rights on multiple commons, from opting in to another agreement.


Land Management Plans


General consensus:

  • Should be based on a scorecard and map approach.

  • A vision of what the LMP is intended to deliver should be developed at the start of the agreement, with an emphasis on what's already present and opportunities to enhance it.

  • An independent facilitator should be in place to support both the development of a land management plan and its delivery.

Points made in individual commons discussions:

  • Two of the participating commons agreed the process of determining the vision for the land management plan should be as outlined in the table below.

Look at:

Look to:

If you get stuck:

Where stock are currently grazing of their own volition.

- Identify these areas a) so you don’t set out to fight a losing battle and b) because when you know where stock currently choose to be you know where you need to plot access routes from if you’d like to encourage them elsewhere.

Where “special species” currently are e.g. known nesting sites or habitats of particularly “valuable”/vulnerable species/habitats.

- Make provision for them going forward.

- Identify what management is taking place in this area which enables their presence in order that practices are continued if not improved.

- DBRC

- DNPA Ecologist

- RSPB

- DWT

Archaeology

- Establish where current management is delivering good condition you wish to maintain.

- Agree a condition target for all features. It may be different for different features based on the priorities of the Association.

- DNPA Archaeologist

Peat

- Map (locate a map of) the extent and condition of peat. Differentiate deep peat (deeper than 40cm).

- Where it’s in good condition identify the current management that needs to continue.

- Where it’s in need of restoration consider how delivering this outcome can be achieved, through management or restoration, and what its impact on the landscape and agreement are likely to be e.g. would peat re-wetting require opening up an alternative access route.

https://maps.dartmoor.gov.uk/peatland.html

- South West Peatland Partnership

Watercourses & features

- Identify where water is of good quality and existing management should continue.

- Identify where water is of poor quality/where there may be erosion present or areas at risk of erosion.

- Determine what management changes/interventions are needed/appropriate.

- Upstream Thinking

- Catchment Sensitive Farming

- DNPA Dartmoor Headwater Project Officer

- Westcountry Rivers Trust

- EA

Access, crossing places and firebreaks

Having identified where fixed features are present on the common agreeing a plan for access, crossing places and firebreaks provides an opportunity to:

- Identify routes required to enable stock to move from their current locations to areas where increased grazing is considered desirable e.g. putting access routes adjacent to archaeological sites (but not necessarily on).

- Firebreaks have specific geographical requirements in terms of their situation but may serve a double or triple purpose e.g. part of keeping archaeology clear, enabling stock movement and providing access for members of the public.

- Consider creating firebreaks around woodland or special species areas so they’re protected from any swaling activities.

- Consider connecting your fire breaks or access routes with those on adjacent commons.

- Consider creating access paths which can detour from sites currently eroding due to levels of use.

- Consider directing routes away from areas where there may be natural regeneration of woodland to protect young trees from browsing.

- Consider directing routes away from your “special species” areas if there is concern about the impact of members of the public on those species.

- Identify the management required to maintain or enhance you access, crossings and fire breaks.

- Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service

- DNPA Access team

Compartments between features

Having broken up the common by identifying fixed features, firebreaks and access routes start to look at the compartments of blocks of land between fixed features. A grid-based approach may be appropriate or using soil types and affiliated ecological habitats.


- Consider areas where there is relevant consensus that they’re in a suitable condition and the existing management.

- It may be easier to start with areas where it’s clear which habitat type they are and therefore clearer what good condition should look like. Progressing to areas where there may be a wider variety of opinions regarding their condition or use or that may be a habitat in transition and a decision about management could have significant impact.

If there’s conflict this may be where outside expert advice can be of assistance in helping to prioritise areas for specific habitat outcomes.

Create stocking calendar

With the vision in place make sure the calendar is fit for purpose to deliver the intended outcomes. This includes stock numbers, stock type and management throughout the year.


How are roles and responsibilities for delivering the Land Management Plan assigned?


General consensus:

  • Individual rights holders and owners volunteer for works/grazing to deliver the Land Management Plan to the Association management body.

  • Rights holders are prioritised, if none come forward then the Association can tender works out.

Points made in individual commons discussions:

  • Elected board of trustees of the agreement, elected annually, are the first line of organisation and arbitration of agreement participation. The Association’s board must represent owners, active graziers and non-graziers, members declare their interests.

  • Agree stocking calendar with whole Association at the beginning of the agreement, from then on any changes or issues with grazing are determined by the active graziers unless the Board need to intervene in the interests of the wider agreement.

  • Annual management meeting to discuss other works done, what needs to be done in the following year and who is going to do it.

  • There should be potential to recover full costs for responding to complaints if they prove to be false, at the Board’s discretion.

  • If multiple people wish to undertake the same non-grazing work the proportion of work allocated should be assigned based on the proportion of rights, if agreement can’t be reached by other means.

  • Internal deed to uphold Project Plan.

  • Use the project plan (developed using table above) at the start of the agreement for condition of the commons to identify big capital items for which you pitch to a regional funding pot.

  • Use the project plan (developed by going through the table above) as the basis for developing an annual works schedule made up of small capital costs and work costs.

  • It’s possible to deviate from payment framework if this is a necessity to deliver outcomes.

  • Works schedule, including stocking calendar, overseen by Association committee balancing the views of owners, graziers and non-graziers and approved by all at annual AGM.

  • When signed off annual works schedule submitted to ELM system.

  • An independent Dartmoor wide board is in place, empowered to adjudicate disputes and uphold fairness.

  • All monies for agreement are paid by Defra to Association and Association pays out to individuals based on individuals submitting evidence that they’ve completed the work they committed to.


How and to whom are payments made?


General consensus:

  • All monies for facilitation, administration, advice and outcome delivery are paid to the Commons Association.

  • Grazing rights should continue to underpin agreement payments but part of the money should be allocated to work done (the idea of two thirds of the total allocated to grazing and one third for work done seemed to resonate with people).

  • That Defra should set payment rates for different management actions based on the outcome, rather than an hourly rate e.g. set payment for 10m2 of bracken removal.

  • That Defra should set a structure for distributing money within the agreement that all Commons Associations use.

  • That penalties for activities which damage the outcomes of the agreement should be applied to the individual(s) responsible.

  • Some proportion of agreement income should be paid to the common land owner(s).

  • That, using the scorecard approach, additional payment for delivering beyond the SFI level of ELM could be delivered through additional scorecard options or by increasing the payment value for specific scorecard items in specific locations e.g. if tree planting is wanted in a specific area increase the value of tree planting in that area.

  • There needs to be an independent body which can adjudicate disputes.

Points made in individual commons discussions:

  • All three of the commons involved had similar but subtly different views about the appropriate financial arrangements for commons agreements, as outlined in the table below.

Funding for administration, facilitation, and advice.

Capital Items

Works

++ value of public goods delivered

Contingency funds.

- All three commons agreed that all monies should be paid by Defra to the association.


- One common proposed distribution of these funds should be at the associations discretion.

- All three commons agreed a proportion of the budget should be assigned to capital items.


- One common proposed that individual commons agreements should only include budget for small capital items. That for large capital projects, such as peat restoration, there should be a regional funding pot, available annually, that associations bid into.

- One common identified grazing and non-grazing as a form of works delivered. Two commons excluded grazing, in any form, from their definition or works.


- All three commons felt rights holders and owners should volunteer to undertake works. In the case of disagreement one common assigned resolution to the independent facilitator overseeing the agreement. One felt works should be assigned based on proportion of rights held.

- All commons assumed there would be a value beyond that of works undertaken, recognising the value of public goods delivered and incentivising collaboration through the agreement.


- One common proposed distributing this money based purely on the proportion of rights held.

- Two commons felt distribution of this money should be paid based on rights held but also tiered with active graziers receiving the highest payment, followed by non-active graziers with registered rights and SBI/holding/flock/herd number. Finally, with non-active graziers, without SBI/holding/flock/herd number but with registered rights, receiving the lowest rate of payment.

- Identified as a requirement by all three commons.

You can also download the individual approaches of each of the three commons taking part in the test and trial:


A Commons Vision Agreement Process
.pdf
Download PDF • 62KB

B Commons Agreement Process
.pdf
Download PDF • 61KB

C Commons Agreement Process
.pdf
Download PDF • 43KB

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