A CHARITY has expressed its anger at the on-going exclusion of common land from public goods cash.

The Foundation for Common Land (FCL) has written a new letter to Farming Minister Victoria Prentis, to voice its concerns over commoners not receiving any support in Defra's new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

The group also pointed out that ELM funding would be restricted to a constrained set of public goods for the duration of this Parliament – with only nature, carbon, soil and water attracting cash.

It warned farmers would not take up ELM unless public goods such as cultural heritage and connecting with the public were made eligible for funding.

In a new letter to Farming Minister Victoria Prentis, the FCL said: “To date, over six years since the referendum to leave the EU and after hundreds of hours of EEG (ELM engagement group) meetings, we still have had no confirmation that there will be any specific support under ELM for common land.

The letter signed by Dr Julia Aglionby, Executive Director of FCL and a Cumbrian farmer, said: “25-Year Environment Plan ambitions such as cultural heritage and connecting with the public have been shelved, yet these are what will engage the farming community to take up ELM.

“In short, unless Defra, and its executive agencies and non-departmental bodies actively show increasing respect for the systems of farming marginal land, including commons, we fear many farmers will reject the public goods agenda and seek to farm their way out of the loss of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments.”

The letter went on to claim the consequences for nature and carbon of such an outcome would be ‘deleterious’, and said too often farmers were left with the impression that Defra would be perfectly content if hill farming, hefted stock and commoning ‘slipped out of existence’.

A positive statement and associated actions from Defra and Natural England showing a commitment to the cultural heritage of fell farming and commoning both in the upland or lowlands would help dispel this view, says the letter.

“So, at a high level it appears Defra and the Foundation for Common Land’s ambitions have a huge degree of overlap. We are therefore both disappointed and sadly frustrated that there appears to be a lack of willingness in policy and practice to integrate delivery of the full suite of public goods with farming systems on common land across England, both in the short term with HLS extensions, and for ELM.

“With regard to HLS extensions, we continue to urge for an evidence-based approach to be undertaken. We therefore suggest some practical steps as prerequisites before stocking reductions for nature recovery are made to help transparency in such cases;

Discussions with the commoners to start 12-18 months before a rollover recommendation has to be made; A full survey of the common providing clear evidence that the habitats are not on a trajectory of improvement; An acceptance that there will be patches of localised heavier grazing among otherwise predominately recovering habitats and that these in themselves are not a basis for sheep reductions; Offering to phase sheep reductions and off-wintering changes over a three year period; An assessment of the impacts of the reduction on the cultural landscape of the commoning system and a commitment to mitigate; A commitment by Natural England to survey the vegetation before further reductions are sought at the end of the Rollover.

“As ever we remain ready to work with the Ministerial team and your staff to ensure as many commons as possible stay in agreements. We must avoid the risk that the perfect becomes the enemy of the good,” says the letter.