Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Federation of Cumbria Commoners

  This submission is based on the views of the Committee Members of the Federation of Cumbria Commoners (FCC)—all are hill farmers and graze sheep on common land. FCC was set up in early 2003 to be a representative voice to support and protect the commoners of Cumbria. Membership is open to all Commons Associations and commoners in Cumbria and we have affiliate members who are commoners in Lancashire and Northumberland. We currently have nearly 700 members. For more information see

  Below are our views on the recommendations in the CRC report that specifically relate to upland farming and common land management.

  1.  In general, we welcome the recommendations set out in the report, but we feel that they still need further "commons proofing".

  2.  Recommendation 6.1:  We agree that Defa should review UELS uptake and initial impacts. A key problem to UELS uptake on commons is that the guidelines provided by Natural England repeat the weaknesses of previous agri-environment schemes. They do not set out clear eligibility criteria about who can join, deliver and gain reward from the scheme. This lack of definition lays the foundation for conflict between commoners (holders of rights to graze common land and often neighbours) as it allows for different interpretations of the roles and contributions of active graziers, non-graziers and land owners in delivering UELS. To enter UELS Natural England demands that commoners draw up their own internal agreement for the distribution of payment and responsibilities for the management of a complex scheme using contested definitions. This is difficult in its own right, but when you take into account the fact that these negotiations affect each commoner's individual farm business the pressure and stress increases. Especially as agri-environment income can make up a significant proportion of total farm income. In general people do not knowingly walk into conflict, so some upland farmers are reluctant to begin the negotiations and enter into collective UELS agreements.

    We are not looking for one-size-fits all solutions to deliver UELS. We are asking for thoughtful intelligent guidelines that promote fairness and proportionality and provide clear guidance on eligibility and reward structures.

  3.  R 6.2:  We wholeheartedly agree that stocking rates should be decided locally. Our experience, knowledge and daily observation of what is happening on the commons is very rarely acknowledged or valued by other agencies. Current stocking rates as prescribed in the schemes are reducing our ability to actively manage the commons. As a result we believe that the majority of commons are now undergrazed while some remain overgrazed. In addition, our traditional hefting systems are being undermined, and lower stocking rates close opportunities for other graziers with rights. The design of agri-environmental schemes on commons is not negotiated with us—the deliverers. We do not have clear objectives and targets, we don't know if we are on track as we are not provided with feedback from monitoring. We are not learning how to deliver better environmental outcomes. In future, we would welcome being involved in scheme design from the outset and treated as equal partners as we have relevant knowledge, skills and importantly the assets and resources to deliver these schemes.

  4.  R 6.3:  we believe that farming lead bodies (NFU, TFA,CLA) are already doing what is suggested in the recommendation, but there is room for improvement. Moreover, they do not specifically represent the particular interests of commoners, which is something we do for our area.

  5.  R 6.4:  We welcome more R & D on key themes in relation to the sustainability of the commons. We would like to see farmer participatory research approaches adopted where we work closely with scientists from initial design of the research project to data gathering, analysis, final conclusions, and follow-up actions. Topics for research could include: how to mitigate and adapt to climate change on the commons; how to manage peat as a carbon store; what are the indicator species for maintaining biodiversity in particular parts of the uplands; how to effectively control bracken and ticks, amongst others.

  6.  R 6.5:  We wholeheartedly endorse the need for at least one land-based college delivering upland farm management courses. We would like to see specific courses on commons management to include topics such as: skills development (shepherding, gathering, sheep dog training, walling and more); delivering food security; delivering clean water and other public goods; techniques and strategies for collaborative and communal working; collective delivery of agri-environmental schemes. In our discussion we noted that colleges such as Newton Rigg, Kirkley Hall and Harper Adams used to run hill farming courses. Currently these suffer from the twin factors of lack of investment and low demand. A key question is how to raise the status of hill farming so that young people want to enter the industry? The answer being to make it more profitable by paying for ALL that is delivered by hill farmers (see also 9 below).

  7.  R 6.6:  RDPE funding should be used to set up a number of commercial demonstration farms. We were unsure of what "commercial" means in this context. We would like to see funding for a network of monitor farms in the uplands where activities are guided by local farmers groups with the support of specialist advice. These monitor farms would provide us with practical experience and new ideas on how to improve performance and profitability in a positive learning environment. We would also wish to examine topics such as farm succession and the land management issues mentioned in point 6 above.

  8.  R 6.7:  Agree.

  9.  R 4:  We agree that a new approach to funding to reward farmers for managing national assets is needed. We farm the uplands and commons using traditional extensive farming systems. We tend to generate lower incomes from the market and also receive smaller Single Farm Payment. We need economic sustainability to maintain delivery of biodiversity and other public goods and would benefit from consistent direct payments to achieve this. All new payment mechanisms should be light on bureaucracy and administration.

  10.  R 4.2:  Agree. Income foregone is no longer a realistic means of calculating compensatory payments. We would prefer a system of incentive and reward payments for delivering agreed targets and outputs.

  11.  R 5.1:  Agree that long term land management policy to mitigate carbon loss is preferable. This should be informed not only by the knowledge generated by research programmes, but also our local knowledge and powers of observation.

  12.  R 5.2:  We welcome effective carbon markets as long as the rewards for land management go the active graziers, rather than the land owners or other rights holders.

  13.  R 10:  We would like local planning authorities promote appropriate planning policies which recognise the need for suitable housing design for hill farmers/farm workers with equipment and dogs. Furthermore, the current application of planning criteria for new housing on farms often hinges on the number of livestock kept; this crude measure does not reflect the labour requirement of an extensive hill farming system, nor does it take rights to graze common land into account when calculating farm size. These restrictions hamper us from providing our own solutions to housing provision in the uplands and play a major part in the lack of hill farm successors and the failure to attract new entrants.

October 2010

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