ANGRY hill farmers are lobbying for changes to Defra's new support schemes for the uplands claiming they are 'miserly' and 'widely off the mark'.

They say they are fighting for changes to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) Moorland and Rough Grazing Introductory Standard claiming the tasks commoners are required to do under these schemes need to be more 'practical and do-able'.

The views and concerns of commoners and hill farmers were highlighting at the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, which held its first 'hybrid' AGM recently.

Over 50 farmers attended, many in person and some online.

Lakes farmer, Joe Relph, Chairman, highlighted some of the work of the Federation in 2021.

He said, in his report, the Federation's overarching focus last year was to influence Defra’s new support schemes for the uplands so they work for commons. 'We do this by being a member of Defra’s “co-design” practitioner groups.'

"It can be frustrating and sometimes you must put your foot down. We did this recently when we decided not to take part in road testing the scheme. Defra wanted this done in a hurry and during lambing. We knew we couldn’t give it 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 and Trial we deliver with the Foundation for Common Land. Defra are likely to take up our offer."

Last year commoners wrote to MPs and to the Farming Minister to raise their concerns over claims 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 elsewhere, we found they have similar concerns. We then agreed to raise this issue with our respective MPs, and some wrote to the Minister. As a result, we met with a Director of Natural England to present our findings. Realistically, it takes time to change the culture of a Government Agency, but we are doing our best to hold them to account," said Mr Relph in his report.

Members then agreed to re-elect the 18-strong committee of commoners, which was followed by presentations from two specialists on the topic of carbon in upland grasslands and carbon auditing.

Dr Lisa Norton from the Center for Ecology and Hydrology gave a talk on moorland grasslands and their role in climate change mitigation. Studies show that grassland are important for carbon storage.Her main message was that we need to restore acid grassland on less productive land to maintain their stores of carbon.

Becky Wilson from the Farm Carbon Toolkit told the audience how carbon accounting can work for hill farmers. In essence managing carbon on the farm starts by measuring. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure".