DEFRA decision could mean cash boost for crofters

Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has welcomed the decision in England to make area payments for the whole of the common grazing land, but only to those who work the land.

Ms Urquhart has asked the Scottish Government whether it will make the same change, which would be a huge boost to Scottish farmers and crofters who graze common land.

Previously, payments for common grazing land were split between all those who had registered shares in the land, making no discrimination in favour of those who worked the land. This could leave those who did farm the land having to pay to maintain it despite receiving only a fraction of the subsidy intended to support that work. Furthermore, those who are actively farming, are held responsible through cross compliance, but without reward.

After a 10-year legal battle by graziers in Gloucestershire, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says it will now split payments according to the proportion of claimed shares – that is, between the farmers who actually use the common land.

Defra’s decision is a change in their understanding of existing European Union law, which states that farmers should be paid for all the land they farm and for which they are responsible for maintaining in “Good Environmental and Agricultural Condition”.

Ms Urquhart, who is Deputy Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Crofting, said:

“Over the years we have seen a significant decline in the use of common grazings by shareholders. It is extremely important that crofters who have remained committed to the system of shared grazing are rewarded for the whole area they are managing and for which they are held responsible.

“Developments in England confirm the principle that payments should be made on all common grazing shares, and that those payments should go to the crofters who are active on the grazings.

“The Scottish Government has already made progress in ending subsidies to those who are not actively working the land. But that only goes halfway if the money doesn’t go instead to the active farmers who need it.

“I hope the Scottish ministers will now make the same change that Defra has made. Not only is this fair, it could be the catalyst that will encourage people back to the land and greatly assist in meeting the Scottish Government’s ambition to increase the number of small farmers and crofters.

“By working with crofters and common grazing committees to identify all eligible shares, the Scottish Government can make sure no land slips through the system, and our crofters get all of the European funds that they are entitled to.”