AN independent review has published its recommendations on how protected sites on Dartmoor can be managed in a way that delivers on legally binding environmental targets whilst supporting food production, public access and cultural and natural heritage. 

The review was commissioned by Defra earlier this year in response to stakeholder concerns over proposed changes to winter grazing on Dartmoor.

David Fursdon, the Lord Lieutenant of Devon, was Chair of the Dartmoor Review.
David Fursdon, the Lord Lieutenant of Devon, was Chair of the Dartmoor Review. (Lieutenancy Office)

It was chaired by David Fursdon and provides an independent perspective on the management of the moor.

Its recommendations follow more than 150 written submissions and more than 200 conversations across three-and-a-half months with commoners and organisations including Dartmoor National Park Authority and Natural England. 

The review makes a series of recommendations for the Government, Natural England, Dartmoor National Park Authority and commoners on subjects such as vision and governance, operations, communication, agri-environment agreements, and grazing and vegetations management. The Government is expected to respond in full in the coming months.

Key recommendations include:  

• The creation of an independently chaired Dartmoor Land-Use Management Group to help deliver a land use framework and plan for Dartmoor, improve SSSI conditions, and identify areas for data collection that will feed into the development of protected site management strategies.  

• Actions to support vegetation management including conservation grazing by cattle and ponies and controlled burning, alongside exploring the management of sheep over winter months to protect vulnerable heather and dwarf shrubs.

• An overarching agri-environment scheme, or a small number of closely integrated and co-ordinated schemes, that are based on the proposed plan for Dartmoor and support the vision for Landscape Recovery.    

• Improved transparency of protected site monitoring and management of these sites in line with proposals in Defra’s Nature Recovery Green Paper. 

• Increasing Natural England staffing resource and the creation of partnerships to help rebuild trust and confidence on Dartmoor.  

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “Dartmoor cannot either stand still or retreat into its past, so it is vital that all parties take heed of the review’s recommendations so we can effectively support food production, public access and heritage on the moor whilst delivering much-needed improvements for nature.

“I would like to thank David Fursdon and the panel for their work on this important review.”

David Fursdon, Chair of the Review, said: “This is a time for those involved with Dartmoor to come together in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss to protect and enhance nature on the Moor.

“Commoners have a vital role to play in delivering the management and grazing that contributes to this, as do those working to re-wet the degraded peatland.

“We are concerned that the processes around monitoring and evaluation of protected sites are too opaque for all of those who are involved in ensuring their success.

“We have proposed a series of changes to ways of working for the commoners, Natural England, the RPA and others, including taking decisions with a much greater clarity and transparency based on evidence and collaborative working.”

Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Natural England said: “I welcome this important report and would like to thank David Fursdon, panel members and all who submitted views for their hard work.

“We will now work with our colleagues in Defra and the RPA, and our partners on Dartmoor, to consider the recommendations and implement the final decisions in due course.

“We especially look forward to measures that will bring all partners around the table to find collective solutions. This will help us meet our legally binding environmental targets while properly rewarding commoners for conservation grazing, supporting nature-friendly and profitable farm businesses across Dartmoor.”

The review also reiterates the need for careful management of a fresh round of Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) extension negotiations, given one-year extensions will in some cases expire in the first few months of 2024.

The Farming Minister is writing to HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) Agreement Holders on Dartmoor to advise them they will be contacted ahead of the expiry of their agreements.