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Exmoor fund backs nature-friendly farming

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Nearly 5.5km of new wildlife rich hedgerows, 540 hectares of regenerative farming and research into improved management across 700 hectares of moorland are among a raft of projects awarded funding in Exmoor National Park this year through the government’s Farming in Protected Landscapes programme.

The three-year scheme includes a total of £1.2 million allocated to Exmoor. It was set up by Defra to support farmers and land managers with the transition to new farm payment schemes, and to realise their valuable contribution towards reaching environmental goals and other public benefits offered by protected landscapes.

A special panel chaired by Exmoor farmer Robin Milton has been set up by Exmoor National Park Authority (NPA) to oversee the funds locally, supported by a dedicated administration team to help streamline the process. The Exmoor Hill Farming Network and Natural England are providing expert advice to the panel to ensure the money is spent where it matters most.

Christina Williams owns the Molland Estate on the edge of Exmoor and received a grant towards the continuation of an 8-year project to find solutions to heather loss. This includes funding for innovative ‘No-fence’ collars, which are fitted to cattle and use GPS technology via an app to train the stock to respond to an audio signal as they move towards a boundary zone. The novel approach is being used to precisely target grazing in a way that breaks up Molinia grass (aka Purple Moor Grass) and improves the conditions for young heather and other wild plant species to regrow.

She said: “This grant has enabled us to continue our pioneering study investigating different tools for moorland habitat management, particularly using year-round grazing to optimise conditions for heather, a vital late pollinator food source on Exmoor. Longer term research will help build the robust evidence everyone needs for optimum stocking numbers and how this can fit into a farm business system.

“Getting help towards the funding of No-Fence collars has been a real asset to the project as we can now accurately control where the cattle graze, concentrating on the areas of molinia monoculture without the need for unsightly fencing. If the trial is successful this will revolutionise the management of large open spaces.”

Robin Milton, Chairman of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The Farming In Protected Landscapes scheme is helping to support Exmoor’s unique farming heritage, along with traditions that have long helped create Exmoor’s special qualities and continue to play a key role in its designation as a National Park. Upland farming is crucial to sustaining iconic local breeds, like Exmoor Horn Sheep, Exmoor Ponies and Devon Ruby Red cattle, alongside distinctive farm buildings, pack horse bridges, moorland and grassland habitats and other even older sites of historic interest that are all part of Exmoor’s unique charm.”

ENDS

Published: 29 June 2022

T: 01398 323665
E: info@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk