Sunday, 4 September 2016

Brexit: and Dartmoor

The issues thrown up by the vote seem to be piling up - and many are very relevant to us here in Devon - and to the national parks of the county.

Tourism is a staple of the economy:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and a "huge boost to tourism"
Has Brexit affected Dartmoor holidays? - The Moorlander, Online local news from across Dartmoor

Devon's national parks have a special relationship with the land: 
Futures Forum: The Commons: 'it's very much now' in Cumbria and Exmoor
Foundation raises concerns for Common Land from Brexit vote | Foundation for Common Land

The farming ways are very special on the moors:

Concerns raised for National Parks and hill farmers after Brexit vote

By WMN_Athwenna | Posted: June 27, 2016

Farming on the likes of Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor could be even tougher following a Brexit vote

Voting to leave the European Union will have "profound" implications for National Parks and hill farmers who graze their livestock on common land, say the Foundation for Common Land.

It comes as the Foundation for Common Land, part of the Uplands Alliance, say they have "immediate concerns" regarding the uncertainty currently surrounding environmental stewardship schemes, following last week's referendum vote which saw Britain decide to leave its membership of the European Union.

More than 4,500 commoners help to look after these iconic landscapes - many of whom are based in the Westcountry farming on Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor. Other examples of commons in the UK include Blencathra, Scafell Pike, Pen-y-Ghent, the New Forest, Snowdonia and the Isle of Harris.

Hill farmers rely largely on support payments to run their farming businesses

Julia Aglionby, executive director of the Foundation for Common Land, said sustainable management by commoners played an essential part in maintaining these unique places and added that for many hill farmers running small, marginal businesses, support payments represented more than 40% of their gross farm income.

"These are required because the market does not pay commoners sufficient money for their beef and lamb to also maintain the cultural and environmental benefits of common land," she explained. To correct this market failure the government pays farmers through stewardship schemes to look after our heritage but uncertainty now surrounds these schemes."

Ms Aglionby went on to say that, in the short term, farmers needed to know whether firstly, Defra and Natural England will honour current agreements for their remaining duration (some run until 2024) and secondly, if farmers entering schemes during the Brexit negotiations would see them run for their full term.

"The uncertainty that is bad for farming businesses is also bad for the valuable cultural heritage such as at the heart of our most loved landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, North York Moors, the New Forest and Dartmoor," she continued.

"The Foundation for Common Land urges Defra to provide clarity as a matter of urgency. The Foundation for Common Land has already started discussions with other members of the Uplands Alliance to help shape a new post Brexit future for the Uplands and a meeting is planned for September to collectively pool our thinking."

Concerns raised for National Parks and hill farmers after Brexit vote | Plymouth Herald

This is from a Dartmoor farmer from a couple of weeks ago:

The View From The Gate - Mary Alford's thoughts in the summer season

Friday, 19 August 2016 in Farming

When I wrote my last article in April, our referendum hadn’t happened but now we have Brexit. I personally feel it will be an opportunity to take the chains and restraints off British businesses. That very much includes the farming sector.

We must not forget that Europe needs us as much as we need Europe. The old saying ‘no pain no gain’ could happen, but the farming communities now want our government to listen to the grassroot people through our lobbying associations like the County Land and Business Association (CLA), National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Common Land organisations to negotiate a satisfactory outcome for everyone in the food chain, consumers and producers alike.

Government bodies connected to farming need a good shake up and I have written in my last few articles about payments due to upland farmers being delayed. Well they have paid part of the money, but still haven’t been completed and we know not when they will be.

Payment statements have not been produced by the Rural Payments’ Agency (RPA) although they should be received by mid August. Miscalculated back payments going back six years made to upland farmers, still haven’t been paid even though 12 months ago they we were promised payment by the end of 2015.

So where do we go from here? Meetings are due to take place with the head of the RPA in a couple of weeks and we have to start all over again. We have new DEFRA ministers due to the cabinet reshuffle just when we were getting use to Liz Truss and she and her advisers were beginning to understand the moorland farming problems. Now it’s all change again so I hope Andrea Leadsom has a good ear as there is certainly a lot of information going her way.

The View From The Gate - Mary Alford's thoughts in the summer season | News | Okehampton Times

And to finish, this is a blog entry from soon after the referendum from blogger Mark Robbins, Freelance ecologist, environmental campaigner and commentator and former General Manager for the National Trust on Dartmoor:

What does Brexit mean for Dartmoor?
JUNE 27, 2016

Yesterday in my blog I wrote about what I thought leaving the EU might mean for Cornwall – see here. Today I will have a go at discussing what Brexit might mean for Dartmoor. This is pretty complex and bewildering – you have been warned.

One might think that being adjacent to each other the Dartmoor and Cornwall stories are similar. They are not though – Cornwall is a special case. The economy of Cornwall (measured by GDP) is 62% of the national average. This means that it is one of the poorest places in Europe and as a result Cornwall was given ‘Objective 1’ status by the EU and was able to access the ‘Structural Funds’. These funds provided the millions of euros for such projects as the setting up of the University at Penryn and funding for the dualling of the A30. The Isles of Scilly are also subject to Objective 1 designation and they too have received significant Structural Fund monies for projects such as the airport expansion and the quay redevelopment.

Whilst Dartmoor’s economy is below that national average it is not so low as to warrant Objective 1 designation and as a result none of the EU Structural Fund money has come to Dartmoor. Various other EU grants have come to projects on Dartmoor, for example the Castle Drogo project received a couple of hundred thousand pounds from the Interreg scheme. There are other examples no doubt as well but none are in the same league as the Structural Fund projects.

The main source of EU funding for Dartmoor comes from the Common Agricultural Policy. This is not unique to Dartmoor it is how farming is subsidised across the UK and Europe. There are two funds – Pillar 1 funds pay farmers via the Single Payment Scheme now known as the Basic Payment Scheme based upon the area of land they look after and Pillar 2 funds are provided through schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) now known as Countryside Stewardship – here farmers are encouraged to carry out positive management to encourage biodiversity and other environmental features.

This funding stream for Dartmoor’s farmings, landowners and environment is substantial and vital – it amounts to around £7m per annum. It is a complex and controversial process.

The Pillar 1 money – the Basic Payment Scheme is administered by the Rural Payments Agency (part of DEFRA) and this year there have been huge delays in making the payments, there are still some who haven’t received their money which was promised at Christmas. There have been Parliamentary Inquiries and it is still a mess. This has put huge and unnecessary pressure on beleaguered upland farmers. This muddle is of the UK Government’s making not the EU.

The Pillar 2 money in the Countryside Stewardship (CS), formerly known as Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes is finite and has to be competed for. Priority is given to farmers who look after sites of European importance for their wildlife. On Dartmoor this means the two huge Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – see the map below. These two large SACs are made up of many Commons and are farmed via grazing with sheep, cattle and ponies by the Commoners who have ancestral rights associated with their farms off the high moor. These Commoners and the landowners of the high moor have to come together and agree with Natural England how the moor is to be managed i.e. what will the grazing levels and swaling regimes be and then they have to haggle amongst themselves as to how the money will be split amongst them. This has proved to be very divise, it has split Dartmoor communities and led to feuds and much unhappiness.

SACs on Dartmoor

There are around 120 active Commoners on Dartmoor along with a greater number of Commoners who do not exercise their rights. The stakes are very high – I know of Commoners who receive over £50k per annum from their HLS/CS schemes. There are others who receive much less or indeed nothing at all.

The process behind this has been drawn up by DEFRA / Natural England and not by the EU. It would have been much better for Dartmoor and its Commoners if a system of HLS/CS allocation had been devised which had not pitted farmer against farmer in squabbles for the money.

So the key question for the future is – will there be £7m per annum for Dartmoor’s farmers to keep them on the hills and to manage the moor’s special habitats, wildlife and archaeology?

The Leave campaigners have said yes, of course there will be funding for farmers once we have left – we will just have to wait and see and hope for the best. But many of these people are opposed to the green movement calling it the green blob and George Eustice has said the following “The UK could develop a more flexible approach to environmental protection free of spirit-crushing Brussels directives if it votes to leave the EU …”

I suspect one of the ‘spirit-crushing’ Directives he is referring to is the Habitats Directive. This is the very Directive which formed the network of Special Areas of Conservation to protect the habitats and species of Dartmoor (and elsewhere).

It should be noted that the selection of SACs in the UK was the responsibility of our Government and the task was carried out by Natural England with the assistance of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The selection criteria for Dartmoor’s SACs can be viewed here.

In essence the habitats that are a primary reason for selection of Dartmoor as an SAC are:-

Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix
European dry heaths
Blanket bogs
Old sessile oak woods with Ilex and Blechnum

On the surface this seems straight forwards even if it is rather technically written. The Government have tasked Natural England to ensure that the country’s SACs are in favourable condition by 2020. Thus the HLS/CS funding schemes are targeted at the SACs to ensure their management is for the benefit of the wildlife.

The dismantling of the SACs / Habitats Directive following Brexit could detrimentally impact on the conservation of Dartmoor’s special places. However all is not lost as the SAC network on Dartmoor based upon the Sites of Special Scientific Interest network which is based on the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – see the map below and compare to the SAC map.

SSSIs on Dartmoor

Currently the Dartmoor moorland SACs are not in favourable condition. I have written extensively about this in the past making specific mention of the National Trust’s Estate in the Upper Plym and heather – see here (the bit after George Monbiot).

However Natural England have further interpreted the SAC designation for Dartmoor, the eagle eyed of you, might have spotted in the JNCC citation that beside the Blanket bog description it also says ‘* Priority feature‘. In order to get the SAC into favourable condition it is only the priority feature which needs to be in favourable condition and not the other habitats. I have heard senior Natural England and DNPA repeat this which explains why there is now less concern from the statutory bodies regarding the state of heather on the moor.

So the woes surrounding the distribution of existing monies and the arguments concerning the condition of the moor are matters controlled now by the UK Government and their agencies. If they chose so to do the funding allocation procedures could be simplified for farmers tomorrow. Additionally if Natural England chose to include all habitats that are the ‘primary reason’ for SAC selection then the circular debates that are currently taking place might also be resolved.

So the real outstanding questions are:-

1 Will the post Brexit Government allocate £7m per annum to Dartmoor farmers or will they get less?

2 What strings will be attached to these monies? Will they be their solely to support farmers or will they also be there to incentivise protecting the precious landscape, its habitats, wildlife and archaeology for others to enjoy?

Upland farmers are iconic beings and as James Rebanks has demonstrated in his book ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ they are hugely popular and respected by the public.

In a similar vein Dartmoor as a place is loved too and any attempts to water down its protection will be met with outrage and uproar.

Nevertheless the future is very uncertain and in the overall scheme of things Dartmoor, its farmers and its natural environment may not get the attention they need when they need it.

Brexit – A Dartmoor and Devon blog 

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