What does Andrea Leadsom mean for Dartmoor?

A few days ago I wrote a piece on what I thought the Cabinet re-shuffle might mean  for the environment – see here. The piece posed a lot more questions than answers! Fortunately my friend Miles King has suggested where some of the answers may come from – I recommend you read his excellent blog on the topic here.

Herdwick sheep on Dartmoor

Andrea Leadsom, the new Environment Secretary and George Eustice who has been re-appointed as the Farming Minister in DEFRA are both high profile ‘Brexiters’ and founding members of the Right Wing think tank  Fresh Start Project which was set up in 2011 with the express purpose of re-examining the UK’s role in Europe. Both have spoken and written on how agricultural policy and subsidy should be reviewed. See Miles’ blog for the details.

In essence it has been summarised as follows by Agra Europe:

 “direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 of the CAP should be phased out, and there should be a parallel reduction in red tape and regulation in order to ensure a globally competitive farming sector.”

In tandem, “Pillar 2 payments for environmental stewardship should be increased with new tradable environmental payments introduced to allow productive land to be more intensively farmed and marginal land to be more focussed on environmental stewardship.”

I have written before about Pillar 1 and 2 payments on Dartmoor before – see here. There are the two agricultural subsidy funds – Pillar 1 funds pay farmers via the Single Payment Scheme now known as the Basic Payment Scheme based upon the area of land they look after and Pillar 2 funds are provided through schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) now known as Countryside Stewardship – here farmers are encouraged to carry out positive management to encourage biodiversity and other environmental features.

The thinking of the Fresh Start Project also now helps us to make sense of Andrea Leadsom’s quote “it would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies” , i.e. intensive agriculture in the lowlands and environmental / public benefits in the Uplands.

Sheep and lamb 3

The use of sheep in this quote is very interesting. It implies the density of sheep in the uplands will decline and increase in the lowlands. I can’t imagine any of the Dartmoor farmers that I know or Lake District farmers such as James Rebanks (The Shepherd’s Life) being at all happy with this prospect. It will also open up the row  about whether Dartmoor is over grazed or undergrazed along with the rewilding debate.

However the Fresh Start Project thinking also implies that more money will flow to the Uplands via increased Pillar 2 payments for ‘public goods’, e.g. biodiversity, public access, flood prevention and carbon storage. On the surface this sounds potentially positive for Dartmoor and our other upland areas but goodness knows where it leaves places such as the Somerset Levels or the coastal fringes of Devon and Cornwall.

As ever though the devil is in the detail. Dartmoor farmers currently receive around £7m per annum in agricultural subsidies. Although I haven’t calculated the actual sums, around 50% of this is from Pillar 1 payments and around 50% is from Pillar 2 (it may be 40:60 or 60:40 but it is around these figures). Almost all Dartmoor farmers receive the Basic Payment Scheme monies (Pillar 1) but not all by any means receive Higher Level Stewardship or Countryside Stewardship (Pillar 2).

Removing the Basic Payment Scheme monies before the ‘new’ Pillar 2 monies were in place for all Dartmoor farmers could mean that a significant proportion of Dartmoor’s farmers were left penniless.

O Brook 2

In addition there is currently great uncertainty about the commencement of new Countryside Stewardship schemes (Pillar 2) following the Brexit vote. All new schemes are on hold whilst DEFRA and the Treasury work out how to proceed i.e. are they prepared to 100% fund these schemes once we have left the EU? As a result important and ongoing conservation work is put in jeopardy and those farmers who are trying to re-negotiate their Schemes will see their incomes decline significantly.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director has written about this issue yesterday: Brexit implications for wildlife friendly farming: long-term opportunity, short-term jeopardy – see here.

Worrying and uncertain times in the Uplands ….. and the Lowlands.




6 thoughts on “What does Andrea Leadsom mean for Dartmoor?

  1. ” It will also open up the row about whether Dartmoor is over grazed or undergrazed along with the rewilding debate.”

    This is, I think, the most interesting part of the discussion. I like, within moderation, sheep and cattle on the Moor, because they keep the grass short, and make it easier to walk. [Although, at the moment most places are a nightmare because of all the bracken]. Others I talk to seem to think that there are already too many sheep and cattle because they are overgrazing the land.

  2. Dartmoor is massively overgrazed and withdrawing livestock in many areas will bring positive environmental benefit. Curlews are now extinct on Dartmoor and Ring Ouzels just hanging on. Dartmoor ponies will do a much better job on Dartmoor than cattle or sheep. We can’t just graze hard because “it is easier to walk” – that way lies environmental madness!!

  3. ” It will also open up the row about whether Dartmoor is over grazed or undergrazed along with the rewilding debate.”
    Dartmoor National Park is about recreation, I think. But the 1949 National Parks act means that “agriculture and afforestation … would not be susceptible to normal planning procedures”. [Dartmoor: A New Study, p270; Ed: Crispin Gill].
    Now all three of these things are anti-environmental. As one who likes walking on Dartmoor, I like the recreational aspects, and I feel that farming, in moderation, contributes to this, but that forestry (eg at Fernworthy, Bellever, Ausewell) detracts from recreational and environmental aspects of Dartmoor.
    Maybe Dartmoor is massively overgrazed. What I am interested in knowing, as part of the rewilding debate, is what you, as environmentalists, would wish Dartmoor to be like.

    • That Stephen is a very good question and for which there isn’t a collective or even informed answer! Environmentalists until recently have been fussing about grazing levels and swaling – the rewilding debate has caught us by surprise to some extent – I have set out some initial thoughts on the matter here https://adriancolston.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/the-oak-brook-a-place-of-mutual-satisfaction/ – it makes the point that Dartmoor is about more that just biodiversity which is all the bewilders think about. A

      • The O Brook was Okebroke in 1240, which could mean there were oak trees there, though other names are sometime given (eg Wobrook, Oldbrook) so this is by no means certain.
        Your recent talk mentioned Frans Vera’s idea of the ancient woodlands, which had relatively few trees, which is a view consistent with the idea of stone rows and stone circles, which seem to require a more open landscape.
        When Monbiot mentions returning upland Dartmoor to a wooded area what does he mean exactly? Areas which have recently become wooded – Fernworthy, Bellever etc – are in my view truly awful in every respect. The Dewerstone looked magnificent in early photos, but now one can barely see it. In Lustleigh Cleave there is Ravens Tor, once prominent, now difficult to find. Early postcards, and Widgery paintings, show the Nutcrackers there [at Lustleigh], but now the rocks are so overgrown that they are difficult to climb. Heaven’s Gate was so named because of the magnificent views, but these are no more, because of all the trees.
        This type of tree growth is presumably not what Monbiot is talking about. The snag is, as you mentioned above, I don’t quite know what you are talking about. Is it a return to Dartmoor as it was 2000 years ago? Well I don’t think we have any clear idea what is was like 2000 years ago, in terms of tree cover. Or is it the creation of a new artificial Dartmoor with beaver, red squirrel, lynx and wolves, which may or may not resemble Dartmoor in some former time.
        As you know, we are currently working on converting the Fingle Woodlands into an area with only native species. Are we going in the direction you and Monbiot like? If you do like it, to what extent is that a model for Dartmoor as a whole?

  4. Pingback: A day with the Upland Alliance – A Dartmoor and Devon blog

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