Up to Great Links Tor

The weather on Dartmoor yesterday was fantastic – much too good to not go for a walk. I started from the hidden car park behind the Dartmoor Inn in Lydford.

Down to the stepping stones across the River Lyd – with Bray Tor in the background. Bray Tor is also known as Brat Tor but I prefer the former.

I then headed up to Arms Tor which is definitely a ‘red zone’ climb.

But once the puffing and blowing is over the views become amazing. This is Bray Tor from Arms Tor.

And this is Great Links Tor from Arms Tor.

The walk up to Great Links is much easier. The trig point on Great Links.

Looking over to High Wilhays and Yes Tor from Great Links Tor. High Wilhays is the highest point on Dartmoor but as ever Yes Tor (to the left) looks higher.

Down from Great Links is Dick’s Well – a huge area of tin workings. It is also a great place for wild camping – secluded and sheltered.

On to Bray Tor with the Widgery Cross.

From Bray Tor you can see Chat Tor to the left and then Hare Tor with Doe Tor in the middle distance on the right.

Down in the valley by the River Lyd is an area of in bye land that is gradually rewilding – lots of trees and shrubs regenerating. I listened to a cuckoo here for over an hour.

Highly recommended area to explore.

Two days on Dartmoor

I’ve just spent two days up on Dartmoor helping to train our 10 Tors teams (Torquay Boys Grammar School and National Trust’s Wild Tribe). You could hardly have picked two more contrasting days weather wise! Saturday was cold, very misty and drizzly / rainy. Sunday was much warmer and the sun came out. Here are a few pictures from the weekend. This was our penultimate training walk before the event in May so the purpose was to get lots of miles into our teams’ legs, as a result we have been all over the place. No pictures from Saturday morning ….. too foggy.

Still plenty of snow around even at relatively low levels

And here is Hare Tor behind the Willsworthy Range – looks almost like a scene from the Highlands

Still raining but clearing up – Kings Tor from Four Winds

 

And then to our wild camping site behind Foggintor Quarry – Great Staple Tor in the background (middle) with Roos Tor to the right and Cox Tor to the left. Not a bad spot – very wet ground though – had to pick a camping spot carefully.

Sunday by contrast was glorious – here is the East Dart Valley from Postbridge

The clapper bridge a Postbridge – had to wait a while for it to be people free.

Looking across to Fox Tor with the infamous mire in the middle distance

The Devonport Leat near Whiteworks

Another view across to Fox Tor and its mire with Whiteworks in the foreground

Despite the Saturday weather a brilliant weekend, well organised, a big thank you to all the volunteers for checkpointing and congratulations to the young people for putting in the miles.

Ben Goldsmith joins the Defra Board – look out Dartmoor!

Ben Goldsmith is a well known environmentalist, he is the son of James and Annabel Goldsmith and brother of Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park. He has recently been appointed to the Defra Board. He is also a financial supporter of the Tory group of modernisers known as the Notting Hill set, which includes Michael Gove MP and Secretary of State for the Environment as a member.

This series of tweets about Dartmoor may give us an insight into some of the thinking currently taking place within Defra.

 So is this what ‘public money for public goods’ looks like or we might be going to see some rewilding too?

What will happen to farming in Devon post Brexit?

Yesterday I attended the Devon Local Nature Partnership conference ‘New Horizons for Devon’s Natural Capital’. Great speakers, well attended and well organised. Whilst there are many exciting initiatives happening right now in Devon and the ‘Green Brexit’ mission of Michael Gove gives environmentalists much to be optimistic about with the mantra of ‘public money for pubic goods’, I nevertheless left the conference with a sick feeling in my stomach. What does the future hold for Devon’s multitude of small family farms?

Most of my friends are not rural policy wonks and therefore they are unaware of the situation that farming in Devon (and elsewhere) finds itself. Read on.

Here is Professor Matt Lobley from the Centre for Rural Policy Research (where I work) at the University of Exeter talking about  Farm Business Income. Matt told the audience that the bottom 42% of small farms in England contribute just 2% of agricultural output…. There will be those who say these farmers are inefficient and a widespread re-structuring of the industry is required, I say be careful what you wish for. The consequences for the natural character, landscapes, biodiversity and social fabric of counties like Devon in losing 42% of its small family farms would be immense and would led to outcomes which would fly in the face of the Green Brexit objectives.

The rest of this blog attempts to explain the predicament that farmers in Devon now find themselves and gives a small insight into what has to be done over the coming 5 years. The following data comes from various Defra Farm Income reports.

This graph shows the average Farm Business income in England for the various different types of farming. It shows that across England cereals, grazing livestock (lowlands), grazing livestock LFA (Less Favoured Areas) and  mixed farming all lose money on the agricultural side of their businesses.

This table gives the actual figures included in the above graph. So if we look at Grazing Livestock (lowland) i.e. much of Devon that isn’t on Dartmoor or Exmoor, the figures show that the agricultural business lost £8,700 but agri-environment payments (money for looking after wildlife) generated £3000, diversified income (e.g. running a B & B on the farm) produced £6500, the Basic Payment Scheme (subsidy for owning land) provided £15,300 giving an overall Farm Business Income of £16,100. So £24,800 comes from grants, diversified non agricultural businesses and the Basic Payment Scheme to offset the £8700 agricultural loss giving the family farm an income of £16,100. That is not a living wage, i.e. the income provided is unable to pay the farmer, spouse and other working family members a rate of pay equal to the minimum agricultural wage.

The above figures are the 2016/17 figures for England but if you look at the regional numbers other trends emerge.

These are the 2015/16 figures: the average England FBI figure for grazing livestock is £14,400 but in the south west this drops to £10,300. The dairy sector on the other hand is stronger in the south west.

Here are the summary forecasts for 2017/18.

And here are the detailed forecast figures for 2017/18 along with the trends since 2012/13, an 8% decline for upland hill-farmers (LFA) and a standstill position for lowland grazing livestock. A major increase for dairy and a substantial one for cereals. A volatile market but a very precarious one for livestock farmers.

There are some pretty stark numbers in these datasets. Many farms, particularly small farms make small margins and many others are very reliant on agri-environment grants and the Basic Payment Scheme. After we leave the EU the Basic Payment Scheme will be phased out and public money for farmers will be provided in return for the provision of public goods (e.g. wildlife, access, looking after the historic environment, carbon storage, flood prevention, provision of drinking water etc). The following table shows the scale of the shift in policy and the implications of what might happen if it can’t be achieved.

The column titled CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) Subsidy is the sum of the agri-environment grants and the BPS subsidy. This is the amount of money therefore that farmers will have to earn via the provision of pubic goods if they are to maintain their current income levels. The final column shows what the impact would be on their Farm Business Income if they are unable to do this.

And here’s the rub – some farms on account of their location are much better placed than others to provide a suite of public goods and therefore receive public money. So for example hill-farmers in National Parks have made a very strong case that they can provide these public goods as these areas are rich in natural capital and this has been acknowledged by Government. On the other hand lowland graziers perhaps will find it much more difficult to provide public goods as they are not situated in National Parks with Bronze Age landscapes and Special Areas of Conservation where millions of people go for access and recreation.

The stated aim of these changes is to leave the environment in a better condition than it is in now, this means changes to the way things are done. Judging by the conversations that I’ve heard hill-farmers might be able to provide £22,800 worth of public goods to make up for the loss of their Basic Payment Scheme subsidy, the question is whether for example lowland graziers can provide £15,300 and dairy farmers £25,300 worth of public goods in return for the money.

I had a conversation with Robin Milton, Chair of Exmoor National Park, hill-farmer and NFU Uplands chair about this very topic yesterday and that was why I left the conference with a sick feeling in my stomach.

A Black Fox Running

I was passing Waterstones in Exeter on Saturday and saw a window display for this book.

If you love Dartmoor and wildlife I suspect that this book is for you. I’m halfway through it and am spell bound.

Here is what Waterstones have to say about it – it will give you an idea of what to expect .

A beautiful lost classic of nature writing which sits alongside Tarka the Otter, Watership Down, War Horse and The Story of a Red Deer

This is the story of Wulfgar, the dark-furred fox of Dartmoor, and of his nemesis, Scoble the trapper, in the seasons leading up to the pitiless winter of 1947.

As breathtaking in its descriptions of the natural world as it is perceptive its portrayal of damaged humanity, it is both a portrait of place and a gripping story of survival.

Uniquely straddling the worlds of animals and men, Brian Carter’s A Black Fox Running is a masterpiece: lyrical, unforgiving and unforgettable.