Off to Molland Moor in search of black grouse

I spent the day yesterday in Molland (Devon Exmoor) at a meeting organised by the Heather Trust. The meeting was all about Natural England’s ‘Outcomes Framework’ in the uplands. So what is that all about?

In the past on designated upland habitats (that is, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Special Areas of Conservation) Natural England have granted consent for what they wish to see happen – this has included how many animals may be grazed on a common, when they can be grazed – all year round or only in the summer, whether swaling can occur etc. This has been controversial in many places and to be honest hasn’t led to universal improvements in upland biodiversity quality.

The new approach – ‘Outcomes’ means that the stakeholders such as the landowner, the commoners, local community and Natural England decide how they would like the area of upland to look e.g. a grazed wet heath with 50% heather cover or an  area of blanket bog with sphagnum mosses and 20% heather cover etc.

The farmers / commoners then carry out the management i.e. grazing which they think will lead to the outcomes that have been agreed. In return for this the commoners / farmers / land owners receive money from the agri-environment schemes which  makes the whole process financially viable and keeps farmers on the hills.

Molland5Here we are on the field trip around Molland Common

Molland4 20 years ago Molland Common was 50-80% heather dominated

Molland3 Today it is dominated by Purple Moor Grass

So the question is can we agree how we want Molland Common to look e.g. 50% wet heather moorland and then let the local owner and graziers manage it so that it returns to heather and loses the moor grass?

Molland2We had lunch in this fabulous pub in Molland – the London Inn – well worth a visit



On the way home I passed this pub just down the road from Molland before you get to the North Devon Link Road. The black cock is also called the black grouse and is a nationally threatened species which we now tend to associate with the north of England the the Cairngorms.

Well it wasn’t that long ago that black grouse lived and bred in Devon. Here is what Michael Tyler’s book ‘The Birds of Devon’ has to say “During the period 1930-1955 they were regularly recorded at several localities on Dartmoor as well as on Devon Exmoor….”and “After a trip to Molland with Mr and Mrs Ward we returned past the ‘lek’ and were amazed to find 10 cocks indulging in quite a spirited display” – that was in 1954 and obviously why the pub is named as it is.

Unfortunately black grouse are now extinct in Devon and are in trouble nationally.

The hope is that the “Outcomes Framework’ will help land owners, farmers and statutory bodies turn the tide in the uplands and begin to make some real progress and maybe just maybe one of those outcomes might be the return of the missing black grouse to their former haunts

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