Unexpected farm data from Dartmoor and Exmoor

If you had asked me what agricultural trends were prevailing in our uplands over the past five years, I would have said something along these lines.

The number of agricultural holdings was going down due to consolidations which would see the average farm size increase. The amount of land farmed would be about the same, but the number of cattle and sheep would have decreased. The number of people employed in agriculture would have declined and the area of woodland on farmland would have remained the same.Defra have recently published their ‘Structure of the agricultural industry in June 2021’. There is a specific report on farming in National Parks see here.

I have collated the data within that spreadsheet for Dartmoor and Exmoor and compared 2016 with 2021. 

Dartmoor National Park20162021 + / –
Total holdings7878427.0%
Number of holdings <5-50ha48957617.8%
Number of holdings 50ha +298266-10.7%
Average farm size8066-17.5%
Total area farmed6333255890-11.8%
Beef cattle40121417854.1%
Exmoor National Park20162021 + / –
Total holdings559534-4.5%
Number of holdings <5-50ha3053060.3%
Number of holdings 50ha +254228-10.2%
Average farm size991012.0%
Total area farmed5508354014-1.9%
Beef cattle2413122372-7.3%

The Dartmoor data states that the number of holdings has gone up whilst the number of larger holdings has gone down as has the average farm size along with the total area of Dartmoor farmed. At the same time the number of beef cattle and sheep have gone up. The number of people employed in agriculture has also gone up and there has been a significant increase in woodlands on farms.

By contrast on Exmoor the total number of holdings has gone down as has the number of larger holdings. The average farm size has gone up by a small amount and the total area of farmland on Exmoor has declined by a small amount.  Beef cattle and sheep number have declined as has the number of people employed on farms. Again, there has been a significant increase in farm woodlands.

The Dartmoor data has really surprised me. It would appear to imply that a number of the larger farms have been split up into smaller units as the average farm size has reduced and the number of smaller units has increased which has led to a rise in the workforce along with the number of cattle and sheep. I can’t explain how compared to five years ago 7442 ha (11.8%) of land is no longer being farmed and likewise I can’t understand where the additional 415 ha (20.5% increase) of woodland actually is!

I don’t know Exmoor very well but the trends there seem quite close to my initial predictions, except for the 21.3% increase in woodlands on farms.

Any thoughts?

Storm Angus, the Amber rain and Holnicote

Following Storm Angus last weekend a piece appeared in the Guardian which reported that the Natural Flood Management measures introduced by the National Trust on its Holnicote Estate on Exmoor had been effective at protecting over 100 houses downstream from flooding.

You can read that article here.

Nigel Hester, the Holnicote NFM Project Manager for the National Trust posted some pictures of Allerford during the storm


screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-38-42As Storm Angus was quickly followed by the Amber rain event I was keen to find out what happened after Angus

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-30-01The first peak is Angus and the second is the Amber rain event – I wanted to check with Nigel that the villages and homes had survived flood free both of the events. I asked him “looking at your picture of the Packhouse Inn – does that mean that eventually the river broke its bank and flooded the village?”

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-31-39This is his reply – no flooding.

This is very good news and a very impressive outcome considering there were two large flood events in succession. When the Amber rain arrived there was still a lot of water in the system from Angus.

This is a major story and one that should be of interest to local communities and politicians everywhere.

It appears to me that a well designed and correctly located natural flood management scheme can make a real difference on the ground. Now all that is needed is some modest funding and some political will.



A couple of wildlife highlights from Exmoor

When I was on Exmoor earlier in the week I encountered a couple of wildlife highlights

Frog spawn
Frog spawn in a created pool on the high moor – my first spot of the year – it may only be February but we are inexorably heading towards spring

Lobaria virens
This is the lichen Lobaria virens – it is one of the species of of lungworts found in Britain. It is a rare and special organism. Lungworts need very pure air in which to grow – they also need an Atlantic climate and flourish in shady, damp places in upland woodlands on the western side of Britain. I photographed this specimen in Horner Woods – a fantastic woodland near Porlock.

This is the distribution map of Lobaria virens produced by the British Lichen Society – see here for more details. The red dots represent records of the lichen since 2000, blue dots records from 1960-1999 and the yellow dots are pre 1960 records. As you can see if it very rare and declining but Exmoor and Dartmoor are important strongholds for it.

Fingle Woods goes to Exmoor

I went up to Exmoor yesterday to give a talk to the NT Ranger community in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset and Wiltshire at their annual conference on our Fingle Woods partnership with the Woodland Trust. There was a great turnout – over 100 people. They seemed to like the Fingle Woods story along with the opportunities and lessons it offers to others.

In essence we need to think big for nature, we need to dream, we need new ways of doing things and we need to work in partnership. If we can do that we can make even more of a difference and build on the amazing work that is already going on.

Dunkery 5
Here is Phil Collins – the General Manager on Exmoor talking about the amazing Holnicote Estate

Dunkery 4And here is Alex Raeder who leads on the natural environment for the NT in the South West

Dunkery 1
On the way home I went up to Dunkery Beacon – a fantastic view down to Minehead and across to Wales

Dunkery 2
The National Trust owns over 5000ha on Exmoor centred around the Holnicote Estate

Dunkery 3
Good to see the heather and gorse still in flower

Thanks for inviting me and I hope some of it was useful!





High Moor – Exmoor

Spent Saturday up on the high moor on Exmoor looking at some of the National Trust’s land there. We own a lot of Exmoor – over 11,000 acres – here are a few pictures.

High 1Dunkery Beacon – the highest point

High 2
There is a panoramic sign there – good to see Dartmoor mentioned – one a clear day you can see Yes Tor and Cawsand Beacon (now called Cosdon Hill)

High 3
Rushes, heather and grasses

High 4
A single hawthorn with the sun breaking through the mist on Winsford Hill

High 5
An Exmoor pony in the mist

High 6
Dew on the grass

Remembering a friend

Yesterday I was up on Exmoor at our Holnicote Estate to remember a colleague and friend who died unexpectedly a few months ago. Andy Mayled was the General Manager for the National Trust in Somerset. Around 90 colleagues, friends and members of his family gathered to celebrate his life and remember his achievements. Our Regional Director Mark Harold gave a short speech highlighting many of Andy’s successes from his 30 year career with the National Trust. The overall conclusion was that he was a thoroughly good chap, with a great sense of humour who had made a real difference in conserving nature and outdoor places.

Andy and I regularly ‘chewed the cud’ over various things – how to raise the profile of the outdoors and nature and we compared notes on managing land in our respective National Parks. I remember well spending a day (albeit a very rainy one) in the Plym Valley on Dartmoor a few years ago a couple of days before my wife died unexpectedly – Andy was a good friend to me after that and the cruel irony was that I had planned to spend a day with Andy on Exmoor a couple of days after he died.

After the gathering yesterday I went to a few of the iconic places that Andy looked after to reflect and remember. Here are a few photos from the day.

Down to PorlockDown to Porlock

Up to Dunkery BeaconAcross to Horner Woods and Dunkery Beacon – the National Trust owns practically all of that landscape (and much more on Exmoor)

Horner WoodsDown into Horner Woods

From Dunkery to MineheadThe amazing view from Dunkery Beacon across to Minehead

Trig point to Dartmoor

The trig point at the Beacon pointing back to Dartmoor (Cawsand Beacon is now called Cosdon Hill – a place our 10 Tors teams went last weekend)

The BeaconSome young people I met enjoying the view at Dunkery Beacon

HighlandA highland cow chilling out

Like so many others I will miss Andy

Waterfalls, Steps and ponies – quintessential Exmoor

Been up to Exmoor today – amazing the weather held all day!

First stop was at Tarr Steps – the clapper bridge over the River Barle – I have never been before and have always wanted to see them – I wasn’t disappointed  either. History and info on the bridge here.

Tarr Steps 8


The stones look like an ancient reptile fording the river!

Tarr Steps 7

Over the last couple of winters floods have damaged the bridge but fortunately it has now been repaired.

After the bridge we headed off to Watersmeet via the moor where we came across a herd of Exmoor ponies. Exmoor ponies are integral to the moor and rather like their ‘cousins’ on Dartmoor they are in danger of losing their ‘pure’ blood lines by interbreeding with non Exmoor ponies which also live on the moor. See here for further details.

Exmoor pony 8

On the moor

Exmoor pony 4

Docile animals – essential for the Park

Finally we got to Watersmeet – one of my favourite National Trust places – it never fails to impress me.

Watersmeet 3

Waterfalls at Watersmeet

Watersmeet 6

A little upstream there are even more!

All my best photos from the day can be seen here.