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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

For context:

The Independent Review was commissioned by Defra ministers to 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.

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The panel led by David Fursdon, met with a wide range of representatives of the farming and commoning community on Dartmoor last autumn. They 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 which the Panel took into consideration. Their report with recommendations was issued to Mark Spencer, the Minister for Food Farming and Fisheries, and made publicly available on 13th December 2023.

The full report can be accessed here;

Independent review of protected site management on Dartmoor - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The Dartmoor Hill Farm Project (DHFP) met with the panel on four occasions, and 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.

LATEST NEWS:

The official Ministerial response was released in April, the full document is available here; Government response to the Independent review of protected site management on Dartmoor: full report - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Our Upland Commons - Healthy livestock initiative

Over the past 14 months with ‘Our Upland Commons’ we have been delivering an innovative Healthy Livestock Project. This has involved two Commons Associations, 10 active graziers and a control site to build a detailed picture of species diversity and abundance. Entomologist Clive Turner surveyed the in-bye and commons three times in 2023 examining 4700 dung deposits (7500 litres of dung!) with over 86,000 dung beetle ID’s.

 

31 of the 35 known Dartmoor species were found including rarities and a first record since 1935. Field results were interpreted against animal vet med treatments and the group regularly met to discuss results and review data. The conclusions reinforce the value of three species grazing whilst quantifying both abundance and species preference by dung type. It also highlights the need to consider invertebrates within decision making for environmental condition assessment. We intend to explore a second phase of work this year.

Clive was interviewed as part of the project, and you can read the article here; Dung, soil, beetles and life - with Clive Turner — Foundation for Common Land. 

Holne Commoners Association

Harford & Ugborough Commoners Association

Our Upland Commons

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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 shortly due to arrive back from processing. We welcome enquiries relating to the potential application of wool for alternative uses.

A more detailed write up around these wool trials was contained in our Autumn 2023 newsletter, available on our home page.

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Latest Dartmoor Environmental Land Management (ELMs) Test & Trial (2023/24)

​The second Test and Trial (T&T) on Dartmoor aimed to 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.

With funding provided through Defra, the Test and Trials project is a collaborative effort between the Dartmoor National Park Authority and Countryside Community Research Institute (CCRI) to research the effectiveness of using Payment by Results (PBR) on Dartmoor. It is hoped that this approach will not only support the environment and history of Dartmoor, but also ensure that farmers have a space to run a viable business. PBR was first inspired by work done on the Burren in Southern Ireland, whereby farmers were rewarded for successfully delivering goals in their own way.  

 

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​Test and Trials began in November 2022 and has now produced its final report (to be shared imminently). Over the last year, Janet Dwyer of the CCRI has enlisted the help of Dr James Moran (Mayo Institute of Technology), Gwyn Jones (ENFCP), and Theo Lenormand. Last summer she also oversaw two French students, Lucie Duverne and Paul Pages, to undertake an analysis of the farming practices on the Moor to better understand the economic drivers.  

Gwyn Jones worked to refine a scorecard to fit to the Dartmoor landscape, speaking with local farmers and stakeholders about the current management of the moorland and what they hoped to achieve. These underwent a trailing phase, with three commons surveying and scoring their commons including assessment of vegetation cover, fire risk, public access, and more. The farmers then had an opportunity to provide feedback on the scorecards. Janet Dwyer also worked with various stakeholders to understand how governance and funding would work best in providing Dartmoor adequate support in a PBR approach.

An open event with presentation was held earlier this year, allowing those interested or who took part, to see a conclusion of the work done by Test and Trials before the final report was sent to Defra. A summary document is available via the link below as a precis of the findings. 

 

The final report from the previous Dartmoor Test and Trial is available here. 

Collaboration

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.

DFA - Farm to Fork
Education & Environment

Dartmoor Farmers Association (DFA) are currently running a programme of work funded by the Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme, which has two main strands of work: education and environment. These complement each other via a pilot approach working with a small number of their overall membership (over 100), who work to established criteria and aspirations that reflect premium quality beef and lamb produced in hand with environmental actions and using traditional farming methods. Through working in partnership with Shallowford Farm Trust and Dartmoor Hill Farm Project, this programme ‘Making Connections: Food on your Fork: Nature on the Farm’ aims to help illustrate the link between food eaten at school or at home with farming and conservation on Dartmoor by promoting, organising and delivering 25 farm visits involving up to 10 different farms and over 500 children

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DFA meat is served at many schools across Devon through Goosemoor Ltd ( Educatering); a company that provides over 80 schools in Devon with good wholesome, predominantly locally, sourced food. But how many children really know where their food comes from?  How many have visited a farm and crucially a farm on Dartmoor?  How many understand how nature friendly farming supports conservation and contributes to mitigating against climate change? Farm visits will enable young people to learn where their food comes from, how farming can contribute to conservation of habitats, species, and cultural heritage and how actions on the farm can contribute to mitigating against climate change. Delivery aligns with themes from the national curriculum at appropriate key stage levels, which offer direct benefit to schools adding value to their time spent outside the classroom, supported by building a longer-term connection with the schools through educational packs for teachers and other interpretation materials.

 

In parallel, the project will pilot the development and delivery of Farm Environment Plans which gather and collate relevant information to help illustrate the breadth of environmental features which DFA represent. The plans aim to provide supplementary information to the educational work,  providing tailored fact-based resources about the farms as part of interpretation and communications using positive stories behind the farms. The plans also align with emerging Agri-Environment schemes so that current and future opportunities are identified for the Farm Businesses individually, as well as to illustrate the gains from upscaling and collaboration. Developed with the farmers, if successful, the aspiration would be to expand and roll out the Farm Plan format to other DFA members to fully reflect the scale of impact and opportunity which they represent as a group. 

 

For any enquiries or educational visits, please contact Mat Cole at greenwellfarm@btconnect.com

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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.   

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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 offering this 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 hfp@dartmoor.gov.uk if interested to discuss more. 

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Forage Trials 2024

This season we will be trialling and comparing the most popular SFI grassland options to conventional grassland and comparing costs & yeild. Trials will also monitor establishment results from different levels of tillage on the leys.

There will be several events throughout the year visiting the trial farms. Click Here to find out about events we are running this year.

The report for the 2023 forage trials comparing brassica varieties and companion crops is available below.

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