Thursday 6 August 2015

Commonage Guidelines to be issued to Planners.

The Dept of Agriculture will be issuing guidelines to planners in the very near future. This will allow the assessment of commonages to begin in earnest. These guidelines will also provide guidance on how advisors can deal with exceptional cases and details on the role of the Commonage Implementation Committee. To the Dept of Agriculture's credit, the guidelines have addressed many of the concerns that planners and farmers have raised over the last year.

While planning can now begin on those commonages with an advisor (approx 20%), work on the remainder will have to wait until an advisor is officially appointed. The indications are that this will be at least another couple of weeks. There are several hundred commonages where no advisor has applied for the role, these are currently being notified to advisors to see if any of them will be taken up. If this is not successful the Dept will appoint advisors. This process is expected to take until at least the end of August.

While the deadline has been put back to Oct 31st, there is no chance of 2,600 commonage management plans being completed by that date. GLAS will reopen in October, when this happens advisor effort will be diverted to that scheme. By the time GLAS closes in late November, the evenings will have closed in, the chances of bad weather will be greater and progress on fieldwork will slow to a crawl.

Many advisors have underestimated the scale of the work involved, the tasks relating to fieldwork, i.e. assessing eligibility, mapping dumping and encroachments onto a commonage are time consuming and require a thorough and time consuming site investigations. For safety reasons, advisors would be mad to work alone at high altitudes or isolated sites. Coping with this doubles the labour requirement, something which many appear to have omitted from their calculations. Planning agencies dependent on recently recruited graduates will face a mammoth task in equipping, training and organising a large field campaign. I doubt if they really appreciate the difficulties they will face. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some planners, including some very large operations believed that commonage agreements could be achieved as a desktop exercise without the need for any fieldwork. If any advisors are still of this opinion, they need to change tack quick and start planning a fieldwork campaign and follow up engagements with farmers as a matter of urgency.

My advice to advisors, be properly equipped, don't work alone, take the weather into account. To farmers, remember that the Commonage a Management Plan does not just apply to tranche 1 applicants. If you are considering joining GLAS in the future, get in touch with the Commonage advisor to see how they intend to proceed. When you meet the advisor to discuss the plan, insist on seeing the evidence on which they are basing their recommendations, do not be fobbed off by someone telling you that the Dept. of Agricultures figures are fine. Remember it is your payments that are dependent on this plan, make sure it is right.  To the Dept of Agriculture, get letters out to farmers with the formal approval of advisors as soon as possible.

Finally on a positive note, let us put the trials of the last year behind up, the scheme as now proposed is much improved. The rollout is a huge task, many advisors and Dept officials are only starting to appreciate the scale and complexity of what is needed. It will be challenging but we will get through it, there will be issues along the way but at least we will be underway.

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