A longstanding hitch, buried within livestock movement regulations, could hit producers who share grazing on 20,234ha (50,000 acres) of unregistered common land in Teesdale, County Durham.

Although the rules have been in place since 2001 it has emerged only recently that one grazier’s decision to move sheep or cattle on to the land could trigger a six-day standstill on the entire common.

The issue came to the fore when junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach stated that the department had not been aware of the existence of privately-owned commons, according to Richard Betton of Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services.

“Lord Bach suggested that graziers should have been observing the six-day standstill requirement since 2001,” said Mr Betton.

He believed Lord Bach’s interpretation of the rules could have a devastating effect on sheep production in some parts of the country.

If the minister’s views were upheld, autumn livestock sales in particular could face serious disruption.

“Up to 15 different flocks can share grazing on unregistered commons in this region, because large tracts of land are owned by private estates.

I am now being told that if one man gathers his sheep to separate lambs for market and then returns his flock to the hills, his actions will trigger a six-day standstill for the rest of the graziers’ animals.

“This is a classic illustration of people drawing up legislation without having a clear understanding of the issues,” said Mr Betton.

Lord Bach’s position appears to have scotched Mr Betton’s hopes of a more pragmatic solution.

Previously he had been told by the State Veterinary Service that graziers could be issued with a temporary holding number to submit with their movement records.

Officials from the service agreed the number could be used when notifying the Trading Standards Authority of movements without triggering a six-day standstill.

Mr Betton was also told initially that producers only had to maintain a separate movement record book for relevant areas, as well as keeping records for enclosed parts of the farm.

wendy@sykehall.freeserve.co.uk