AN independent review of protected site management on Dartmoor was published last week. 

Organisations have responded to the review, which was commissioned by the Government following opposition from farmers against Natural England's plans that would have seen livestock numbers on the moor greatly reduced. 

The independent review was chaired by David Fursdon, and gathered evidence from a range of stakeholders on Dartmoor. 

The chairman's foreward on the review stated: "Many of the challenges that Dartmoor faces are deep rooted and hard to resolve. However, the climate emergency and the alarming decline in biodiversity set out in the recent State of Nature report means that we can’t afford to wait any longer. The way Dartmoor is managed needs to change radically and urgently to address these issues.

"We believe that commoning and pastoralism have an important part to play in solving the problems that we face. Dartmoor needs to be grazed. At the same time, Hill farmers are facing some of the largest changes in support that they have seen in a generation and are fearful for their futures."

There were several recommendations surrounding the future management of the moor in the review. These included: 

  • Better governance and a shared vision that fully supports Dartmoor’s commoners and stakeholders, which can be achieved through the development of a Land Use Management Group.
  • Better protected site management that is clear and easy to understand, with results of site monitoring being more transparent.
  • Public funding to support land use, ecology and biodiversity on Dartmoor.
  • Flexible, innovative and achievable environmental schemes that benefit nature.
  • Improved communication between all parties.
  • Continued grazing of livestock for conservation grazing and vegetation management, cultural heritage, and biodiversity.
  • Extensions to HLS agreements to allow time for discussions to explore future options.

NFU Devon chair, Paul Glanvill said they are glad the review recognises the 'important role commoning and pastoralism has on Dartmoor'. 

He said: “The NFU understands the review must be the catalyst for positive, meaningful change. We recognise the recommendations that evolution of Dartmoor’s vision, governance, and management needs to involve commoners, Defra and Natural England, and a wide range of other key stakeholders.

“We await the Government’s response to the review and feel confident that the report fairly highlights the actions needed on Dartmoor. We will continue to work closely with our members on any developments, particularly the Land Use Management Group.”

Thomas Binns, NFU uplands forum chair, noted that upland farms have helped to crete and manage the landscapes across Dartmoor. 

“In our evidence to the independent review, we emphasised that livestock grazing is an integral part of Dartmoor’s heritage and that the hill farmers who manage the livestock and make up moorland communities must be protected," he added. 

"I am pleased that this has been recognised and that the review has highlighted the concerns of upland farmers on Dartmoor who remain uncertain about their future and how they will make up for loss of income under the transition from direct payments to ELM (Environmental Land Management) schemes - this was a key finding in our ELMs modelling work carried out by the NFU uplands forum. It’s vital hill farmers are properly and fairly rewarded for the work that they do otherwise such businesses will struggle to be viable.

“The need for effective communication with commoners to provide a system that works was also highlighted within the review. The NFU has always said that the knowledge and understanding of local farmers will ‘help to shape positive outcomes’ on Dartmoor and, as key partners, commoners must be part of the process of gathering evidence and reporting the condition of moorland.”

President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the review means farmers and the local community have 'finally' had their voices and experiences heard. 

“This thorough and swift review fully recognises the deep-seated challenges faced by those living and working on the moor," said Victoria Vyvyan. 

“Despite a track record of poor communication and unilateral decision-making, Natural England and Dartmoor National Park have an opportunity for a reset that puts farmers, livelihoods and the unique environment at the centre of land management. We expect immediate action to implement the recommendations of this report.”