Current News & Projects
Although we are a small team, we service a wide range of projects and are constantly revising and updating our activity. Many of these are delivered in partnership with farmers, landowners and a range of agencies working on Dartmoor. A core focus is business resilience and as well as ongoing farm support, this is also tackled through programmes such as Farm for the Future. There are too many to cover in detail but this page highlights some of the initiatives we are currently delivering or involved with.
THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW ON THE MANAGEMENT OF DARTMOOR’S PROTECTED SITES - UPDATE NOVEMBER 2023
The Independent Review has been commissioned by Defra ministers and will make recommendations on the most effective grazing and management regime(s) that would deliver improvements on the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) across Dartmoor so they can maintain or achieve favourable condition.
This should be balanced against the long-term and sustainable delivery of other priorities such as agricultural production, public access and cultural and natural heritage.
The panel led by David Fursdon, met with a wide range of representatives of the farming and commoning community on Dartmoor throughout the autumn. They have worked hard to make the process accessible and to get out on the common to discuss relevant issues. In excess of 150 written evidence submissions were submitted by the mid October deadline and the Panel are currently writing up their report with recommendations. This will be issued to Mark Spencer the Minister for Food farming and Fisheries by the end of November and should be publicly available in December.
The Dartmoor Hill Farm Project (DHFP) met with the panel on four occasions, and have submitted written evidence from the Steering Group and through the Healthy Livestock Project. A copy of the DHFP evidence is available to download in the report button below.
The full scope and terms of reference for the Review can be found here, as further background and context:
Adding value to wool
A focus has been peatland restoration projects on Dartmoor, but also exploring alternative uses such as horticultural applications, having sourced 5 tonnes of local hill wool in 2022 which has since been deployed across different sites. We have produced stuffed 'logs' to be used in small gullies with a design developed by one of our partners, Ruth Lindsey of Natural Dales Wool Products. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the project over the coming year whilst expanding the volume sourced to 15 tonnes in 2023, which is currently being despatched for processing. We welcome enquiries relating to the potential application of wool for alternative uses.
A more detailed write up around these wool trials is contained in our recent (Autumn 2023) newsletter, available on our home page.
Our Upland Commons - Healthy livestock initiative
We are working with the Foundation for Common Land as part of their Heritage Lottery funded project “Our Upland Commons”. Amongst the strands we are delivering is a ‘healthy livestock’ project working with commoners on Holne Moor and Harford and Ugborough. Our initial focus was mineral balance in cattle and sheep grazing the commons. Working in partnership with the active graziers, Peter Bone (Livestock and Grassland Mineral Consultancy) and local vets we undertook a programme of blood, vegetation, and water sampling on both the in-bye and common land. This highlighted a range of challenges, and the groups are in the process of discussing the results and management changes which will be summarised in a report to be issued shortly.
Holne Commoners Association
Harford & Ugborough Commoners Association
Our Upland Commons
Now you see it - now you don't!
As part of ongoing projects, we have been exploring the role that invisible fencing systems and GPS trackers can play in livestock grazing the common. Initially we engaged with ‘No Fence’ a Norwegian company though a free trial offer. Working with 5 cattle graziers and one sheep grazier (in-bye only) on different commons across Dartmoor we explored the practicalities for day-to-day stock management. This highlighted several challenges from price point and mobile phone coverage to battery power but in summary feedback from those who participated was very positive. Most graziers saw a significant saving in time and costs in locating stock on misty days (as part of ongoing projects) and most cattle remained in their identified lears. We are continuing to use collars as part ongoing projects and have provided feedback to Defra through their review of invisible GPS fence systems by their Animal and Welfare Committee. In addition to audible collars we have looked at GPS trackers in use on some herds and flocks with a role to play where mobile phone signal is good.
We support a number of farmer groups who are looking to collaborate in order to improve business resilience and to deliver better outcomes for the farm, local economy and the environment. This includes a newly formed CIC (Community Interest Company) in the Postbridge area who we helped develop through a project linked to the Dartmoor Facilitation Fund. The initial focus was on the Marsh Fritillary butterfly but as the group developed knowledge and confidence, we explored the agricultural transition and emerging markets. This led to a landscape vision and plan for the holdings who have formed a CIC to allow them to access new funding. We helped them to formulate a project for field trials on herbal leys and this work is now being funded and delivered in partnership with South West Water through their Upstream Thinking Project.
Latest Dartmoor Environmental Land Management (ELMs) Test & Trial (2023)
The second Test and Trial (T&T) is underway. The work will address two strands;
1. developing a Payment by Results approach to rewarding work and
2. the governance required for this approach to be successful on common land.
The T&T is overseen by a partnership, with the Dartmoor National Park Authority providing the necessary administrative structure and secretariate. The work is undertaken by the Countryside and Community Research Institute, (CCRI) led by Prof. Janet Dwyer. Janet supported by her team including Theo Lenormand and over the summer two French students; Lucie Duverne and Paul Pages, were compiling information on past and present farming practice on the Moor to better understand the economic drivers.
A new project assistant, Ellenor Litobarski, joined the Team to act as a local contact and enable information to be gathered from throughout the farming community. All Farmers on Dartmoor are encouraged to participate in the Test and Trial, with a small panel of farmers focusing on each of the strands to act as a sounding board for potential ideas and to look at the practicalities of any proposals.
Initial open meetings were run in March and May to provide an opportunity for all farmers to learn about the project and to clarify how they might contribute. If you would like to be involved, please contact Ellie Litobarski via email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01626 831062.
Meanwhile, Lucie and Paul's student project consists of describing and analysing Dartmoor's farming systems (linked to landscape, the political and economic history) to better understand farmers' needs today and for the future. Following their time on Dartmoor this year, they presented their findings at an open meeting in September, a copy of those findings will be shared shortly. Looking ahead, the next steps for the remainder of this project will include trial use of Payment by Results models on clusters of commons across Dartmoor. This will allow the Test and Trials team to see how it will function in practice and will be an opportunity for farmers to give their feedback. This will feed into the final report for Defra in March 2024.
The final report from the previous Dartmoor Test and Trial is available here.
Farm business benchmarking
Given the current pressures in farming and the challenges brought about via the Agricultural Transition, uncertainty or lack of clarity around the true financial position of a farm can lead to bigger problems long term. DHFP have been in discussion with AHDB with an aim to set up and support Benchmarking activity, as there seems to be a lack of data for the upland sector. We are planning to offer this from autumn 2023, with help to get started. Any information is entirely anonymous and confidential, but this would allow a farm to review its costs, expenditure and performance more holistically - and from there, understand what areas of the business are working well or need adjustment. Overall, the information helps create an anonymous 'pool' of info for comparison - and the option to collaborate in a group and share knowledge, experience and ideas if you wish.
Please contact us at email@example.com if interested to discuss more.