Exmoor - a Farmed Landscape
The Exmoor landscape that is so valued today for its beauty and apparent wildness, is in reality, largely the result of thousands of years of farming. Woodland has been cleared, heathland burned, moorland drained and the vegetation controlled by grazing animals – particularly cattle and sheep – managed to produce food and wool. Over the generations, this has led to the intimate pattern of fields, moor and woods that make Exmoor National Park such a special place.
While Exmoor’s geology, climate and natural processes have formed the hills, valleys, rivers and steams and its dramatic coast – it is agriculture that has had the major influence on the mosaic of vegetation cover, the wildlife it supports and the pattern and character of Exmoor’s farmsteads, hamlets, villages and towns.
Moorland vegetation now dominates the poorer, more lightly-grazed soils and more nutritious grasses are grown on the richer, flatter land. Steep slopes typically support woodland that provided fuel, timber, and shelter for the farms and until recently, other products like charcoal and tan bark.
Distinctive farmsteads were created as the hub of farming activity while hamlets and villages grew up to meet the requirements of the farms, providing homes for farm workers, markets, services, shops, and places for worship and socialising.
For much of its history, large parts of Exmoor were owned by a few, significant landowners and this too has played a part in the development of the unique landscape we see today.