Should Dartmoor be a temperate Rain Forest or a cultural landscape? Discuss ..

I gave a 20 minute talk yesterday at Butterfly Conservation’s conference on the future of the south west’s uplands where I very briefly summarised the findings of my PhD research. I’m interested in why people disagree about the way that Dartmoor is managed and grazed and I’m looking at it from the perspective of the various stakeholder narratives. Is Dartmoor overgrazed or undergrazed? Should it be richer in wildlife? Should much of it be rewilded? Should the blanket bog, valley mires and wet heath be re-wetted? What about the historical landscape – should it be re-grazed so that the monuments become visible again within the landscape? What is to be done about the Molinia (Purple Moor Grass) jungle and the Western Gorse encroachment? What about the hill-farmers’ narratives? Lots of questions, lots of viewpoints and lots of disagreement.

My talk prompted this exchange on Twitter today following an initial tweet from Farming Wilder.

Followed by a response from George Monbiot – arguing that a temperate rain forest should be re-established.

But what of the existing wildlife interest?

A comparison of Dartmoor to the Amazon ….

The case for a varied but cultural landscape….

Is this the beginning of a compromise?

Nobody is actually happy with the status quo but …

Not all Dartmoor hill-farmers will agree with this but some evidently do …

An interesting social enterprise …

With the parlous state of hill-farm economics, the spectre of Brexit, continuing climate change and atmospheric nitrogen pollution, the status quo is untenable and change and new ideas are needed. This exchange suggests a possible alternative, there are of course many others such as a 21st century return to ‘Levancy and Couchancy’ (only keeping the number of animals on the Commons that you can feed over winter from the meadows on your home farm –  growing hay and silage organically) and a new Transhumance (summering of animals on the Commons and then ‘finishing’ of them in the lowlands).

To be continued ……



4 thoughts on “Should Dartmoor be a temperate Rain Forest or a cultural landscape? Discuss ..

  1. I am left with questions:

    Biology A Level ecology module (a long time ago) taught me that in the UK, left to its own devices, this land develops to oak woodland. What is a temperate rain forest?

    Because of man’s interference/ influence (like hill farming) the UK is not all oak woodland, other things have established – moorland, heath, etc. Each habitat supports different flora and fauna. If we aim for some of each type, doesn’t that support a greater diversity of wildlife?

    In Dartmoor’s case, given the density of molinia in large areas, with no light able to penetrate down to the soil to support existing seed growth, no hope of any falling seed able to reach down to the soil, how can anything break the dominance without animals eating gaps in it, deposting poo for insect/ plant food, moving seeds around?

    Fundamentalism never goes well. Is the answer to try it all on Dartmoor and learn, rather than one size fits all? Graze areas intensely, graze some not at all, graze some using the hill-farming rhythms killed off by agri-enviro scheme interference. Create that over-used term ‘mosaic’. Look at what thrives where. And, in the words of the Dollylama – ‘decide who you are and do it on purpose’?

    Having watched hill farmers warn of the eco disaster of monovegetation on Dartmoor by reducing grazing so much so suddenly and being so so so arrogantly ignored by eco ‘experts who cast them as the devil, maybe it’s time to restore the old ways and the species that used to thrive here.

  2. This is very interesting. I believe there are so many complex considerations here, the solution cannot be just one thing and the optimum outcome lies somewhere between the two extremes. Yes, some areas could be wilder but some areas need to be farmed with grazing animals because without them we will lose so much – species rich pastures, hay meadows, hedges. We have already lost 97% of our flower rich grasslands – the last 3% are precious! And we cannot simply dismiss our hill farming community because we need someone with skills to manage it all. And because it is their home.

  3. Hi Adrian

    Great to see your webpage and to know there are more people out there questioning whether it’s right that Dartmoor is so barren.

    Im currently in contact with dartmoor national park as I realised that they never responded formally to Monbiot’s talk where he accused them of carrying out destructive conservation practices.

    Either they disagree and should evidence that burning and grazing isn’t destructive or they should tell the truth as they surely have a duty to promote wildlife conservation?

    I await their response. In the meantime they have a consultation about what people want on dartmoor. For my part I’ll be asking for some trees. Not just for wildlife but also to reduce flooding in Totnes where I work!

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