The Foundation for Common Land (FCL) has offered to provide training to Defra staff after the department appointed an official with no prior knowledge of common land to focus specifically on policy for commons.
The group claimed Defra has a ‘high level of ambition’ for introducing the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme on English common land, but a ‘low level of preparedness’ to do so.
It warned that without a concerted effort, there was a serious risk that direct payments will be phased out on time while the roll out of ELM to English common land is delayed, rendering farms unviable.
The FCL raised the issue with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into ELM and the agricultural transition.
In its submission to the committee, the FCL said: “We engage continuously [with Defra] via the ELM Engagement Group, but whenever we raise issues around commons and tenants – many commoners are tenants – we are told that is detail to be addressed later.
“We have been informed this week that Defra have now appointed one person to focus on policy for commons, which while welcome, is insufficient given the complexity of commons and they are coming without any prior knowledge of commons.”
The FCL went on to say it was unable to assess whether the ‘stepping stone’ Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) due to be made available in 2022 would be a viable support measure, as Defra had not provided any detail of how the scheme would work.
It also pointed to evidence from the Government-funded Test and Trial in the North York Moors, which found ELM payments would need to be between two and 10 times the value of current Countryside Stewardship payments in order to secure public goods delivery.
Last year, top Defra official Gavin Ross confirmed payment rates for the ‘stepping stone’ SFI and the ELM pilot would be calculated using existing income foregone methodology.
“While the Secretary of State has committed to move away from income foregone plus costs, so far there has been no information released to indicate the alternative approach,” reads the FCL submission.
“This is urgently required to build confidence and engagement.”