horses grazing© Rex

Farmers who graze common land in England could receive backdated farm subsidy payments running into millions of pounds.

Defra changed the rule on how CAP payments will be made on commons after farmers with common land rights in Minchinhampton and Rodborough in Gloucestershire launched a legal challenge.

Under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), Defra calculated the proportion of the total eligible area of a common a farmer could claim on the basis of the total number of rights recorded in the register for each common.

See also: Details of CAP payments to be published online        

However, with some commons rights holders not making claims, this left a number of “naked hectares” of unclaimed land and led to some commons graziers complaining their payments were too low.

In a statement, Defra said it had concluded that the basis adopted in 2005 for allocating the eligible agricultural area of the common among SPS claimants did not comply with European regulations.

It said the methodology adopted in 2005 was “not in accordance with the regulations” and some farmers may be entitled to claim additional amounts under the SPS for previous years.

According to calculations by the Foundation for Common Land:

  • There are 4,500 claimants on common land
  • SPS was claimed on 293,299ha out of the 373,365ha common land grazing area in 2012
  • That equated to 21.35% unclaimed area
  • If payments had been claimed on this area they would have been worth £8m
  • By land type, £2m moorland, £5.7m lowland, £0.33m SDA (Total = £8m)

 

It is understood the “policy change” could cost Defra up to £8m if it finds the estimated 4,500 farmers with grazing rights in England are eligible to receive payouts.

There are also cases in which farmers have received Hill Farm Allowance – or Upland Transitional Payment – in respect of common land, who may be entitled to extra payment for the later years of these schemes.

The Foundation for Common Land, a registered charity established to protect the public benefits from pastoral communing, said it was a “massive decision” for those who farm common land.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We have changed the way we allocate CAP funding for farmers with grazing rights on commons to create a fairer system for those who are using the land.

“In many cases this will mean those farmers can expect higher payments than in previous years.

“The Rural Payments Agency will be writing to commoners to establish if they may be entitled to additional funding as a result of previous SPS claims.”