TORRIDGE and West Devon MP Sir Geoffrey Cox is joining several other MPs to call for a public inquiry into managing Dartmoor.

The inquiry has been sparked by friction with Government body Natural England over commoners’ rights to graze their stock.

Natural England says that three Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) on the moor are in a poor state and wants to make changes to how and when commoners graze their stock.

The MPs claim that Natural England’s proposals could ‘destroy’ commoners’ livelihoods on Dartmoor. Sir Geoffrey and two other Devon Tory MPs, Sir Gary Streeter (South West Devon) and Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) are petitioning the Secretary of State for the Environement, Food and Rural Affairs Therese Coffey for an inquiry.

The MPs said progress had been made towards establishing a way forward last year though a working party but ‘valuable and constructive work... had now been abandoned by Natural England which has issued apparently peremptory limits on grazing, which would have a significant adverse impact on farm businesses (especially tenants) rendering some, if not many, no longer viable.

‘It would also destroy the ancient traditional hefted flocks, which instinctively know the boundaries of their own common and are themselves a prized part of the unique life and culture on Dartmoor.’

Sir Geoffrey set up the Dartmoor Farming Forum bringing together people working on Dartmoor, including the chief executive of Natural England, to discuss the agreement last summer.

From this, an action plan was agreed and a brief drafted by Natural England. The MPs say however, that this brief was never distributed to others and ‘it seems that valuable and constructive work has now been abandoned by Natural England’. ‘In our view, that process must be revived and include an independent examination of the ecological requirements of sensitive sites on Dartmoor and the relevance of traditional grazing to them.’

Dave Slater, South West regional director for Natural England, said: ‘Dartmoor contains three of the largest moorland SSSIs in the country, but none of these are in a ‘favourable condition’ with rare moorland birds all but disappearing from the area and precious peatland habitats damaged. The right type of grazing is fundamental to restoring the health of these moors. Society needs thriving nature as part of our farming systems and that is especially important in our national parks. Getting that right takes time but can be done.

‘With many of the voluntary agri-environment agreements, that pay farmers to deliver for nature, held by Dartmoor’s commoners due to expire this year, we’re supporting the commoners and landowners to help them make any changes to timings and patterns of grazing that might be necessary over the coming five years.’