England

Common land farmers set for payout after legal challenge

Minchinhampton Common Image copyright Google
Image caption Some 500 cattle are grazing on Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons at any time

Many farmers who graze common land in England could be eligible for backdated payments totalling millions of pounds.

The development follows a legal challenge from farmers with rights over common land in Gloucestershire.

The change to the Single Payments System comes after Defra announced a U-turn in how Common Agricultural Payments for commons are calculated.

Defra said the decision followed a challenge by those with rights over Minchinhampton and Rodborough commons.

It is believed the unclaimed amounts could add up to about £8m.

'Fairer system'

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in the past each commoner had been able to claim on a proportion of the total eligible area of a common.

This was calculated according to the ratio of the rights a farmer held to the total number of rights recorded in the register for each common.

But, Defra said the existing system did not comply with European regulations and it hoped to create a "fairer system".

"The Rural Payments Agency will be writing to common farmers if they may be entitled to additional funding as a result of previous SPS claims," a Defra spokesman said.

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

Peter Gardner, from the Minchinhampton Committee of Commoners, which was behind the challenge, said he gave the news a "cautious welcome".

Three years ago the committee won the right for a payment that led to graziers being paid a fifth of the total others received.

"It's not clear yet what it'll mean for the 1,320 people who have grazing rights, given that only a very small number of them actively use those grazing rights," he said.

"About 500 cattle are grazing on the Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons at any time."

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