Defra backs Land Use Management Group to support Dartmoor farmers

The government recommends a new Land Use Management Group to support the long-term governance of Dartmoor
The government recommends a new Land Use Management Group to support the long-term governance of Dartmoor

A number of priorities have been set out by Defra to ensure farmers on Dartmoor are better supported to produce food while protecting important habitats.

The government has published its official response to the independent review of protected site management on Dartmoor, which was released in December.

Undertaken by David Fursdon, the review called for a complete overhaul of policy and practice while painting a damning picture of the impact of past policy and practice on the moor.

It determined that Natural England had "not responded successfully" to the challenges of working within Dartmoor.

Now the government has responded, with a key recommendation being the creation of a Land Use Management Group (LUMG).

This would aim to encourage positive working relationships and help farmers deliver for food production, the environment and wider public goods, Defra said.

The LUMG will be set up later this year and run for two years, with Defra appointing an independent chair who will be supported by a secretariat provided by the Dartmoor National Park Authority in the day-to-day running of the group.

Defra has also set out its ambition to make it easier for land managers to understand site designations and associated requirements, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Responding to the recommendations, the NFU said it was vital that it was included in the development of the LUMG to ensure actions were "successfully impacted on the ground".

NFU south uplands chair, Mat Cole said: “As someone who farms on Dartmoor every day, I am pleased with the well thought out recommendations from Defra for the future of protected sites.

"It is evident that food production, alongside environmental delivery and the range of public goods farmers provide across Dartmoor, has been considered.

“The success of the LUMG depends on farmers voices continuing to be heard, particularly as we transition to new environmental support schemes.

"It is also critical that Defra has continued oversight of Natural England’s relationships with stakeholders to ensure a positive way of working.

“We look forward to working with the government further on the vision for Dartmoor. Farmers are part of the solution, and we can work together to produce food, boost biodiversity and look after the environment.”

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said Defra’s support for the review would help reset relationships between Natural England and farmers on Dartmoor.

But Victoria Vyvyan, CLA President said the industry needed more commitment from Defra that the report’s suggestions would be taken forwards.

"We welcome the establishment of a Dartmoor Land Use Management Group but await details of how it will operate.

"Defra are asking farmers to put a lot of faith into SFI 2024 when the details are not yet available.

“Until government provides more specific information on SFI2024, and commits to a wider review of SSSI legislation, rural businesses in Dartmoor and beyond will continue to operate in an uncertain and challenging environment.”

David Fursdon, chair of the review which was released in December, said he was pleased to see the government supporting many of the recommendations in the review.

He said: "Those responsible for the future of Dartmoor and its special features need to come together now in an open and transparent way to discuss the practical steps necessary to restore and enhance this special place.

"This will require careful management, properly funded. This is their chance. They may not get another.”