We held our first “hybrid” AGM last Friday. Over 50 farmers attended, many in person and some online
Outlining the work of the Federation in 2021
Joe Relph our Chairman started his report by saying our hearts must go out to the people of Ukraine. He went on to highlight some of the work of the Federation in 2021.
Influencing national policy
Our overarching focus last year was influencing Defra’s new support schemes for the uplands, so they work for commons. We are a member of Defra’s “co-design” practitioner group for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) Moorland and Rough Grazing Introductory Standard.
What Defra has designed so far is disappointing. The payment rates are miserly and widely off the mark. The tasks they require commoners to undertake need to be more practical and doable. And we have told them so!
Putting our foot down
It can be frustrating attending these meetings and sometimes you must put your foot down. We did this recently when we decided not to take part in road testing the prototype of the Moorland & Rough Grazing Standard. Defra wanted this done now i.e. during lambing. We knew we couldn’t give the testing the time needed to do a good job. But rather than say no outright, we offered to fully road test the process later this summer, using the Defra funded Commons Test & Trial we deliver with the Foundation for Common Land.
Last year a number of our members were concerned that Natural England staff were not applying the rules for Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) extensions on commons in a consistent manner. We wondered if this was a Cumbria, or an England-wide issue? Talking to commoners representatives elsewhere, we found they have similar concerns. We collected 27 cases studies throughout England and found little consistency in the way Natural England staff applied the guidance.
We raised this issue with our respective MPs, who passed it on to the Minister. One outcome was we met with a Director of Natural England and presented our findings. While admitting that Natural England was not perfect, very little has changed so far.
Being realistic we know it takes time to change the culture of a Government Agency. We are chipping away at it and holding them to account is the first step on the ladder.
After the Chairman’s report, the members accepted the accounts and agreed to re-elect the 18-strong committee of commoners. Joe Relph was pleased to say that new and younger members had joined the committee last year. He added the Federation is always open to new committee members so come and join us.