Sustainable Farming Incentive on Common Land at risk due to Lack of Clarity

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The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) and the Foundation for Common Land (FCL) have come together to raise their concerns about the guidance published by DEFRA setting out the eligibility for commons and shared grazing for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

The guidance raises several questions over the practicality of operating an SFI agreement in a common land setting. TFA junior vice-chair and Dartmoor farmer, Helen Radmore commented “the Eligibility Criteria for commons published last week offers no clear criteria as to how an SFI agreement must be managed on common land. Furthermore, it provides no steer on how disputes should be rectified, which historically, has been the barrier to many agri-environment schemes achieving their targets”.

The TFA and FCL have repeatedly raised their concerns over the lack of clarity in the guidance and welcomes a DEFRA commitment to engage together with themselves, Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency over the coming weeks with the aim of providing a better framework for common land.

Time is running short

However, Julia Aglionby, FCL chief executive said, “With agreements due to start in the next few months, time is running short to improve the requirements for schemes on commons. Without more clarity we are concerned the SFI Moorland Standard, especially at the intermediate and advanced levels, will not be feasible to apply for or administer effectively. Low levels of engagement mean farmers miss out on much needed income and the public misses out on the delivery of environmental outcomes”.

The TFA and FCL published a joint statement in May 2021 which highlighted DEFRA’s failure to adequately address the management of common land and calling on it to do better to understand the complex nature of business structures that operate within domestic agriculture. The recommendations put forward have yet to be acted on.

“The use and management of common land is a centuries old tradition now bound up in statute, regulations and bylaws and is an important part of our cultural heritage. This necessitates that a bespoke approach is taken to the implementation and administration of agri-environment schemes on common land,” said Mrs Radmore.

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