Sheep grazing on common land© Tim Scrivener

Backdated subsidy payments totalling millions of pounds are to be paid to common land farmers in England over the next few days, the NFU has revealed.

In a statement released on Monday (31 July), the union claimed “a major legal win” in a long-running dispute with Defra over single farm payments for farmers who graze common land.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) had previously denied active commoners the ability to claim for all the farmed area of a common under the former Single Payment Scheme (SPS), reserving proportions of land for other commons right holders who were often not farmers.

See also: Common land farmers urged to claim backdated payments

This left a number of “naked hectares” of unclaimed land and led to some commons graziers complaining it watered down their payments.

Farmers with common land in Minchinhampton and Rodborough, in Gloucestershire, brought a legal challenge, supported by the NFU’s legal assistance scheme (LAS), which, although it did not reach the courtroom, has been successful.

Following a review, Defra concluded that eligible common land farmers should be allowed to claim for the “full eligible agricultural area of each common” as its policy did not comply with EU regulations and it needed a “fairer system”. 

Peter Gardiner, from the Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commoners, the organisation behind the legal challenge, said: “The extra money will make a big difference to the management of our commons and we hope it will have a similar effect elsewhere. 

“It has been a long and bumpy track since 2005 when this all started and we would never have made it without the support of NFU, the LAS and Loxley Solicitors.”

Payment phases

NFU LAS chairman Trevor Foss added: “It is great news that our members are finally going to be paid after a long battle fought by the NFU and supported by its LAS funding, without which our members would not have been able to take on this case.” 

The NFU said top-up payments for the first stage of adjusting claims on common land will be paid to eligible farmers in the next few days.

The second phase will start to be completed later this year when the RPA takes the adjustments from SPS years, rolls them forward and adjusts Basic Payment Scheme claims made.  

The Foundation for Common Land has estimated that the backdated payments may be worth as much as £8m.

RPA response

An RPA spokesperson said: “Following the outcome of the Judicial Review in 2014 the RPA received claims from some commons farmers for top-up payments and additional entitlements following the Minchinhampton and Rodborough ruling.

“We are now contacting these farmers to confirm the outcome of their claims, award entitlements, top-up payments and make compensation payments to those eligible.”

The RPA received over 2,700 claims for top-up payments and additional entitlements following the ruling.