Common land can provide many public goods, but they will only be truly realised if commoners are involved in the design of post-Brexit agriculture policy, says Chris Short, chairman of the Foundation for Common Land.
Commoning is an ancient land management practice that dates back to 1215, building on principles first set out in the Magna Carta.
It is this process over the centuries which has shaped common land as we know it today.
Common land makes up just 3 per cent of the land area in England and is managed by less than 4,000 farmers, but provides 38 per cent of the open access land, 20 per cent of all SSSIs, 11 per cent of Scheduled Ancient Monuments and vast swathes of the scenery within our National Parks and AONBs, including about 200,000 has of peat bog.
Commons have witnessed many good times and much turbulence over the centuries, and yet they have endured.
Speaking to commoners in Malvern recently, it is clear these are seen as turbulent and uncertain times.
If anyone tells you they know what is going to happen in the next few months, then it is likely they like the sound of their own voice.
Of all the things currently being talked about which are worth keeping, the ambition of linking the active management of land to the provision of public goods is one.
Given the figures above, common and commoners have nothing to fear, as the list of public goods provided by commons is both long and high on quality.
In many cases, it would be enhancing what is already underway or enabling a change in approach to facilitate this change.
This is provided that experts and land managers can agree on the route to achieve these objectives.
Those commoners on Malvern have a real desire to be part of the solution, to be partners with the Government and the respective agencies.
It is through partnerships that we will be best placed to deliver these public goods, and commons have for centuries been about cooperation and partnership.
The current experience of those commoners is they feel like contractors, with little choice or flexibility.
Nor do they have the opportunity to offer their knowledge of the land to help meet the environmental outcomes.
That is why the Foundation for Common Land is offering to undertake a Test and Trial as part of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) preparation.
Just sitting back and letting others sort it out is not a responsible position given what is at stake.
Commons have a fantastic story to tell, and all those actively involved in commons should be part of the process in helping us secure a future which creates thriving businesses underpinning our countryside and communities.
I would say to all farmers anywhere, now the ELMS Tests and Trials have started – there are over 20 such projects up and running now, with more planned – find out how you can get involved.
It will serve as good preparation for your future and your knowledge will make for a better scheme.
This is particularly important on commons.
As those who know these special places will be aware, you have to deal with multiple landowners and rights holders, as well as the commoners themselves.
Applications to Countryside Stewardship have been very poor, because as commons are treated separately, these areas are either too small to qualify or too large and complex to find the right combination of options.
We can’t allow this to be repeated – too much is at stake.
Under the Foundation’s Test and Trial, we will establish a toolkit which provides a replicable delivery model for all commons, to ensure those involved in the active management of these areas are rightfully rewarded.
Chris can be found tweeting at @chrisshortccri
Chris is chairman of the Foundation for Common Land and Reader in Environmental Governance at the Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire This article is his personal view rather than that of the any of these organisations.