A grazed moorland landscape

In 2005 a Moorland Vision for Dartmoor was agreed. It was designed to provide farmers with a clear statement on what the public bodies (i.e., the statutory agencies) wanted the moorland to look like in the future (2030). The Vision confirmed that active management including grazing and swaling (burning moorland vegetation) was essential to delivering the Vision.

In developing this Management Plan, the question of a grazed landscape was raised again, with concerns about over-grazing (particularly by sheep) in some areas; and under-grazing in others; leading to conflicts with Dartmoor’s important archaeology, habitats and wildlife. Intensive sheep grazing may keep vegetation too short and prevents a mosaic of vegetation heights and habitats; in other places insufficient grazing causes problems for archaeology (visibility and damage to buried archaeology), sustainable farming and specific habitats for wildlife. Conservation grazing is an essential management tool for some habitats, but intensive grazing will hamper others.

Concerns were also raised about swaling (planned and controlled burns) conflicting with climate change objectives, although stopping or reducing burning could increase the risk of more damaging wildfires, particularly with hotter drier summers resulting from climate change.

The idea of high nature value or high environmental quality farming was raised during preparation of the Plan. This refers to low intensity farming systems which are managed with the production of public goods at the heart. Management of common land by commoners (people, usually farmers, using common rights to graze animals) was also considered to be a public good and something to be supported.

Principles:

  • Grazing animals are one of the main tools to deliver the objectives of this plan, to deliver conservation and access outcomes and support local communities.
  • The number, type and seasonality of animals should be determined locally depending on the outcomes to be delivered and linked to sustainable farm businesses.
  • Animals grazing on the Common are inextricably linked to those on the home farm. It is important that all stakeholders work together to ensure the availability of stock to graze the commons. Especially, that the new ELMs delivers a programme for the uplands that is relevant and economic.
  • Ask Government to review the Heather and Grass burning code to provide updated guidance for land managers on management regimes to deliver conservation objectives and respond to the climate emergency. This needs to be in the context of the wildfire risk associated with current vegetation and also the availability of other mechanisms to deliver environmental outcomes. Farmers should be involved in identifying solutions.
  • Support high nature / environment value farming (low intensity farming systems which are managed with the production of public goods at the heart) through new Environmental Land Management Schemes