Trends in Common Grazing: First Steps towards an Integrated Needs-based Strategy

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"Common grazings are a poorly understood but significant form of land use and community organisation in Scotland. Used by 20% of those who claim agricultural support in Scotland, they dominate the parishes where there are most claimants. These very same regions are the most geographically-marginal and socially-vulnerable – 75% of claimants in parishes designated as Fragile by Highlands and Islands Enterprise contain common grazings, and 69% of all claims with common grazings are found in these parishes. Their significance as providers of environmental public goods is out of proportion to their size. Though less than 7% of Scotland’s land area and 9% of land in active agriculture, they account for 13% of the Special Protection Areas designated under the BIRDS Directive; over 15% of High Nature Value farmland and 30% of the area with peat of over 2m in depth. Despite this they are poorly served by Government support measures. Receiving the lowest rates of Single Farm Payment (SFP) and Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) payments, they also find it difficult to access support under the more targeted Axis 2 measures. Our evidence suggests that this is due to a combination of lack of suitable options within the schemes and the extra transaction costs of negotiating between shareholders, whether active or inactive. Scottish Government rules on the degree of agreement required for participation in the Rural Priorities (RP) measures compound this difficulty. The possible future development of the SFP towards a more regionally-based model poses particular challenges for common grazings, where the area of forage claimed is usually lower than the forage used, putting their users at a potential disadvantage once the historic tie is broken. Most common grazings are offered the possibility of self-regulation by Scots law. However, at least 1 in 5 is not regulated at present, and capacity is low in many of the others. The empowerment of grazings institutions to make the transition from the regulation and development of pastoral agriculture to a wider remit would seem to be a vital element in the sustainable development of these communities, yet Government lacks even a basic list of common grazings. These facts call for analysis and careful planning by Government. Common grazings have usually been considered ex post in policymaking up till now. Consideration of their importance and special needs is absent from all recent significant policy documents. Their integration into policy development and monitoring is however hampered by their being difficult to identify in the agricultural statistics – a situation which could be remedied given the political will."



land tenure and use, pastoralism, rural development