Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Dartmoor Commoners' Council


  1.  While the Council supports the main thrust and all the recommendations of the Report it only comments below on those matters in which it has a real and informed interest. They are those connected with upland farming and the management of moorland.

  2.  Critical to our response and to our thinking about the modern functions of commoners in the hills is the concept of public benefits (goods, assets, also known clumsily as ecosystem services) which upland grazing alone sustains and which far exceed those available in the lowlands per unit area.

  3.  We recognise nine such: the landscape and its beauty; easy access to it; the cultural heritage it reveals; its contribution to biodiversity; its storage and supply of clean water; its role in mitigating flooding downstream; its sequestering of carbon in peat; the first link in a food chain; and the actual production and marketing of protein. We agree that the ways of paying those who sustain all these things for that work have to be devised, urgently.

  4.  Concentration by government and its agents on only one of those public goods—biodiversity—and neglect of the others for some years now, has skewed the grazing regime to such an extent that hill farmers generally and commoners in particular are having to review their own operations and plans very carefully, and indulge new business initiatives.

  5.  Which leads to our clear and strongest support for No 6 in the summary of Recommendations on p. 21 of the report: "securing the future for hill farmers". The huge risk at this moment is that the next generation, develops the present forced initiatives to the extent that the need to graze the open moorland as part of the business is extinguished. The farmstead would still be occupied so there would be no alternative base from which to start any new grazing management system. Moreover, the historic skills base involved in the existing system of stock management and burning regimes would be lost.

  6.  Without grazing, moorland becomes impenetrable to people and stock and scrub invades. Transpiration of moisture increases and thus water held and peat (the carbon store) diminish. The surface heritage becomes invisible, walking and riding cease and even the view is impeded.

  7.  We inevitably also strongly support the need for recognition of regional flexibility in this whole area of policy making. Grazing formulae constructed in NE England just do not work in SW hills. The climate, and thus the growing season, is very different. Cattle play a vital role in managing moorland in the SW, and the combination of cattle, sheep and ponies' grazing is critical to sustaining the mosaic of vegetation which provides those nine public benefits.

October 2010

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