Full House at our AGM

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Nearly sixty hill farmers and representatives from statutory agencies attended our recent AGM held at Newton Rigg, Penrith.

Joe Relph, our Federation’s Chairman told the audience that over the last year most of the Federation’s work has been aimed at calling the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to account over their poor performance in paying commoners on time. The latest bug-bear is re-mapping of commons. Some Cumbrian commons have “lost” a lot of land eligible for Basic Payment. The Federation’s other main strand of work is influencing government agriculture policy after Brexit. The strategy is to work with other like-minded organisations to request that common land is included new policy and scheme design from the outset.

The Federation is still aiming to establish a commons council for Cumbria with Northumberland but the work is progressing at a snail’s pace. The main Defra advisor on commons councils took early retirement last year and there was a 6 month gap before he was replaced. The new advisor came to Cumbria in the first week of his job to learn about commoning and common councils. Defra will be undertaking a national consultation process in due course. The Federation also meets regularly with the National Trust, Lake District National Park and other bodies that have an interest in common land.

The Federation is taking on new work for 2019. It is one of the few farmer-led organisations undertaking a “tests and trials” for Defra to design components of their proposed new environmental land management scheme (ELMS). This will replace BPS and Countryside Stewardship. The Federation is designing and testing a commons proofing tool so that new schemes work on commons, rather than undermine them.

Finally Joe told the audience that the Federation is in good stead. The committee is made up of 19 excellent, hardworking members; sixteen are commoners, one represents common land owners and two experts on commoning. The Federation is self-financing and breaks even. 

After the AGM business, the Federation’s administrator, Viv Lewis was presented with the Blamire Medal for services to agriculture. The committee were delighted that Viv has received this prestigious award.

The AGM closed with two excellent presentations. First, David Morley, H & H Land and Property outlined the issues around mapping errors on common land and provided guidance on what commoners need to do to challenge RPA. This was followed by Chris Clark, farmer and business consultant who talked about coping with change and managing uncertainty. For many hill farmers BPS payments make the difference between a little or no income. So with BPS phasing out hill farmers’ resilience is going to be severely tested. Chris Clark believes that it is essential that commoners take a long hard look at their businesses.  He also outlined a business model to survive Brexit that calls for fewer livestock and allows nature to flourish. This may work for some commoners.