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Basic Payment Scheme changes welcomed by commoners chief

GOVERNMENT payments to support commoners are to be divorced from the number of animals turned out onto the New Forest each year.

The changes to the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) announced this week come in the wake of concerns of overgrazing from the rising levels of livestock.

The new system was welcomed by Charlotte Lines, chair of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, who said: “Now is the time to look forward."

Charlotte Lines, chair of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association
Charlotte Lines, chair of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association

She added: "We are working to support New Forest commoners through the transition period as BPS is phased out over the next seven years and the New Forest enters into an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM) which will be based on the delivery of public goods.

"We are working closely with our partners to ensure ELM is right for commoners and for the New Forest," she added.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which is attached to Defra, delivers payments to farmers across the UK each year and handed out a fixed pot of around £3m to the New Forest.

Under the previous BPS, commoners were given a share of the subsidy based on the marking fees they paid to the verderers for animals turned out to graze in the previous year.

But that meant that as animal numbers increased the payment per head was reduced, sparking concerns about increasing animal numbers.

Figures from the verderers revealed that in 2020 there were 13,628 cattle, ponies and donkeys marked to graze on the New Forest and its commons.

That was up from 8,880 animals in 2015 – a 65% increase.

Confirming the BPS changes this week, the RPA acknowledged fears the increase in animals had been "impacting the environment".

Now the RPA will allocate to each commoner who has claimed BPS in the New Forest a reference amount based on the maximum number of marking fees they declared in any year between 2015 and 2020.

The RPA added: "This will be taken as an expression of their grazing rights and used annually to perform the area allocation calculation for BPS, entirely divorced from the number of animals each commoner chooses to turn out to graze in the New Forest that year.

"There will also no longer be a requirement for New Forest commoners to provide copies of marking fee receipts to support their BPS claims."

As part of the consultation the RPA put forward three options and said the chosen one had been backed by 87% of respondents. The consultation was sent out to over 300 people who had used the BPS before and 72 responded, Defra said.

It said new farmers in the New Forest who started commoning in 2020 and have not yet declared any marking fees to the RPA may still be able to claim BPS in 2021 by completing a new form.

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