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Moor Support for Devon’s Precious Landscape
2012-05-17

The much-loved natural landscape of Dartmoor will benefit from a landmark conservation and farming agreement to be officially launched by Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, at the Devon Show today (Thursday 17 May).

Blanket bog on Dartmoor.

Blanket bog on Dartmoor

Over the next 10 years, an Environmental Stewardship funding package will provide a £13million boost to the area by enhancing habitats for wildlife, safeguarding vital public benefits, and helping the continuation of the traditional farming method of ‘commoning’ that has shaped Dartmoor’s unique landscape for hundreds of years.

The agreement is one of the largest and most complex Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements ever undertaken by Natural England and covers the ‘Forest of Dartmoor’ – an area of more than 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) at the heart of The Moor and one of England’s largest areas of common land.

Officially launching the ‘Forest of Dartmoor HLS Agreement’ at the Devon Show today, Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State at Defra thanked everyone involved in drawing up the agreement and in particular praised the achievements of the more than 300 Dartmoor ‘commoners’ involved for their hard work and support for the project.

Speaking at the Show, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, said: “Dartmoor is a unique area and this agreement, that puts traditional farming methods hand in hand with nature conservation, will help continue a way of farming that has existed for centuries. It’s great news all round for the people who live and work in Dartmoor, the thousands of visitors that come to the area every year and the wildlife that it is home to.”

Under the historic practice of ‘commoning’, sheep and cattle have grazed freely over much of Dartmoor for hundreds of years. This new HLS agreement provides financial support for the commoners to graze their livestock in ways that will maintain and enhance important natural habitats and help Dartmoor’s special wildlife and plants to thrive. It will also support habitat restoration projects on the mires and the preservation of many archaeological features in this historic landscape.

Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England, joined the Environment Secretary on a tour of the Showground to meet some of Dartmoor’s farmers. He said: “This is a significant new chapter in the long history of the Forest of Dartmoor. By securing a major source of funding for the Moor’s traditional agricultural practices and a decade of support for Dartmoor’s farmers, this agreement will help to preserve this area’s unique farming traditions and enhance its natural environment.

“The commoners have a vital role as the custodians of Dartmoor and we are delighted to be working with them to ensure they have the support needed to continue looking after this wonderful place for future generations to enjoy. We are especially grateful to Colin Abel as Chair of the Forest of Dartmoor Commoners’ Association for all his work in championing this agreement. I am absolutely delighted that so many farmers have joined the Forest of Dartmoor HLS scheme.”

The Dartmoor agreement is one of the largest agri-environment agreements in Europe and is part of Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Higher Level Scheme, which is funded by the EU and UK Government. The annual payments will help to safeguard a viable future for the commoners on Dartmoor, as well as delivering habitat enhancement of blanket bog, upland heath and species rich grassland habitats.

The HLS agreement provides an incentive to the commoners to manage the area to maximise the wide range of public benefits provided by The Moor; including food production, environmental protection, biodiversity enhancement, recreational value, carbon storage and water quality.

The carbon stored in Dartmoor’s peatbogs amounts to the equivalent of one year’s emissions from UK industry. The source of many of the South West’s major river systems is on The Moor’s blanket bog and habitat restoration work makes a valuable contribution to improving quality and quantatity of drinking water supplies. The work will also reduce the amount of expenditure required on flood defences and water treatment downstream.

The Forest of Dartmoor has been part of the Duchy of Cornwall estate since the 13th century. The term ‘Forest’ dates back to the 11th Century when ‘Forest Law’ was introduced by the Norman Kings and it refers not to woodland, but to areas that were used as Royal hunting grounds. Today, Dartmoor supports many rare and threatened plants and animals and its importance is recognised by its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a National Park.

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