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Pilot scheme for upland farmers 'showing promising results'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 27, 2012

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A pilot scheme to give upland farmers in Devon the freedom to manage their own land free from outside interference is working well, officials will hear this week.

Hill farmers on Dartmoor have long complained their hands are tied by officialdom with the number of grazing animals down by 80% in some areas.

The Dartmoor Farming Futures initiative, which was launched last year, is currently being trialled on 26 farms in two different areas.

Farmers in the Forest of Dartmoor and at the Haytor and Bagtor Commons are involved in designing and monitoring a new agri-environmental scheme.

They are already said to be showing promising results, particularly in terms of co-operation between the groups with responsibility for managing the land.

This week the National Farmers Union's Uplands Group is visiting the project's two areas to assess its success.

Group chairman Robin Milton, who co-runs a family farm on the edge of Exmoor, claimed the initiative was "a great opportunity" for farmer-led preservation of the countryside. He said it allows "local farmers who best understand how to manage their environment, to use skills and knowledge to achieve environmental goals".

"We hope that this approach will both protect the environment and allow traditional farming practices to survive.

"It should also noticeably increase the potential of such schemes to deliver real change and enhancement of ecosystem services and public benefits."

The initiative brings together Natural England, the Dartmoor Commoners' Council and Dartmoor National Park Authority. Defra, the Ministry of Defence and the Duchy of Cornwall also play a part in steering and funding the new project.

Tom Greeves, chairman of the Dartmoor Society, calculated there were 175 farms grazing animals on the moor.

"It is a tiny number of people to keep the moorland looking as it is and they have an extraordinary inherited legacy of looking after Dartmoor", he added.

"Time and time again I have heard them talking about having their hands tied and losing their birthright."

Mr Greeves said the Farming Futures scheme may succeed, but he added: "We want to see the results on the ground.

"So far experts have come in and told people what to do – the principle of asking farmers should have been done 20 years ago."

James Paxman, chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Society, said it was "pretty good news".

"Rather than Natural England telling farmers this is what we want it is a change of emphasis," he added.

"They sit down and agree then let farmers themselves come up with the mechanism – hopefully it will lead to an overall increase in the stock numbers, which is a problem."

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