Common Land in the United Kingdom
Common grazing land accounts for about 7% of the UK’s agricultural area, but a much higher proportion of High Nature Value farmland. For example, in England, it makes up 56% of all semi-natural rough grazings.
|Sole use rough grazings
|Total Agri. land
Up until recently, there was no organisation trying to bring together common land interests from across the UK.
EFNCP has supported the establishment of a Foundation for Common Land through numerous joint projects, including:
Report on State of Commoning in Wales
Common land makes up almost 12% of the agricultural land of Wales and is used by around 3295 farmers. It is very important for delivering a large range of ecosystems services, from public recreation to biodiversity (58% of the Welsh farmland designated as SAC). Anecdotal evidence is of a decline in use, leading to fears of an irreversible collapse in management systems. Yet despite their importance, they are poorly studied.
In association with the Foundation for Common Land we carried out work to:
- Undertake a Wales-wide survey of common Land and its management
- Hold a series of meetings with Grazing Associations in Wales
- Produce a research report on the state of commoning in Wales
- Start to prepare a shared vision for common land in Wales
Regionalised direct payments in England
One possible threat to active common graziers is a move away from historic to regionalised delivery of the Single Farm Payment. On a sole use farm, both regional and historic claimants need to comply with Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition rules, carrying out such activity as meeting those standards implies. On common land historic payments maintain a tenuous but nevertheless real connection between payments and those most likely to be active at present; regionalised payments allow inactive rights holders to claim CAP direct payments while not needing to undertake any of the work needed to deliver GAEC.
England is already implementing a transition to a regionalised SFP model. The Countryside and Community Research Unit, along with the Foundation for Common Land, carried out research commissioned by EFNCP to investigate what impacts, if any, can be detected on active graziers (Final report; 1.833 KB).
Distribution of agri-environment payments in England
Rights of common are rights to do something - grazing, for example - on land belonging to someone else (the lord of the manor), who usually retains the ability to use any surplus, and who can in any case still carry out other activities, such as hunting, not covered by rights of common.
This means that agri-environment agreements under the English legal jurisdiction can only be submitted with the consent of the lord of the manor, and may furthermore involve some management activities being carried out by him. The need for his consent potentially gives the lord the ability to demand payments beyond what his costs would otherwise imply.
Inactive rightsholders are in a similar position - their consent is normally required; decisions they make on whether to remain inactive will impact on those who already active and the relationship between the cost of undertakings and the scale of any financial reward which they get for making them is not obvious.
Given a lack of information about how all of this works in practice, the Foundation for Common Land has carried out a survey of a sample of commons in England, asking the following questions:
- who currently receives money from AES agreements on common land,
- the contribution such recipients make to land management on the common, and
- whether there are regional variations across England.
The report shows that active graziers benefit in 89% of agreements and collectively receive on average 77% of the monies. However, there is considerable variation between regions. The owners of common land also benefit in slightly over half the agreements and on average receive 18% of the financial value of a scheme; again there is considerable geographical variation. In a number of cases various non-graziers also receive monies from an AES agreement, although the amounts are small and the practice varies.
It also reveals starkly defined regional and individual differences in how AES funds are distributed amongst stakeholders on commons. The findings cast doubt on whether those actively managing the commons are consistently rewarded at levels commensurate with their contribution. In some cases inactive owners are rewarded at a level that cannot be readily explained except by the fact that their consent is required before an agreement can be concluded.
This analysis is a first step in understanding how AES agreements on common land are developed and implemented. There is a need for a deeper investigation to examine if the current distribution of public monies is justified, and whether those who are actively managing the common are effectively disadvantaged through a culture which has become established in certain areas.
Common grazings in Scotland
Work on common grazings in Scotland is a major element in EFNCP's current work programme and is reported here.
Study tours on common land
As part of our work to encourage networking and the exchange of best practice, we have been involved in organising a number of study tours:
- England to Spain
- Wales to Spain
- Ireland to Scotland and England