6 September 2002

Common land move

THE proposed Federation of Commons Associations for Cumbria – the UKs first organisation to represent farmers interests concerning common land grazing – has welcomed the governments recent announcement concerning future commons legislation.

The latest consultation document has suggested that commons management associations should have statutory powers to ensure they can operate more effectively.

According to Penrith-based consultant Andrew Humphries – the driving force behind the Cumbria federation – this acknowledgement by the government is seen as a positive step towards achieving new and workable commons legislation within the next three years.

But, Mr Humphries added, the government now has to take the next step and recognize that graziers must form an integral part of the operating structure of those statutory powers.

"We have come a long way since [junior DEFRA minister] Michael Meacher came to Cumbria to publish the Governments first discussion document on the future of common land over two years ago.

"While environmental concerns are a priority of future government policy on common land, we have continued to stress that land management is the key to maintaining "green" prerogatives.

"We will now recommend that farmers are at the centre of things," said Mr Humphries.

Cumbria has 125,000ha (300,000 acres) of commons. Englands total area of common land extends to 180,000ha (432,000 acres) with a further 60,000ha (144,000 acres) in Wales.

Around 95% of common land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and under the European Habitat Directive the government has a commitment to ensure that by 2010 these areas have reached a "favourable standard" or are in a "recovery condition" in terms of bio-diversity.