In March, Natural England suddenly announced, without consultation, and just as the lambing and calving season commenced, that it would require dramatic reductions in grazing, for both livestock and the famous Dartmoor ponies. This came as part of the new Higher Level Stewardship agreements for Dartmoor, due to be renewed in the next few weeks. Geoffrey had hoped after his Dartmoor Farming Forum last year, to which he invited the Chief Executive of Natural England, there would be a fresh start in the approach of the agency to Dartmoor’s complex environment rebuilding trust and cooperation.
After consulting widely with local farmers and Dartmoor commoners regarding Natural England’s intentions for Moorland grazing, Geoffrey has been meeting Natural England and the Dartmoor National Park Authority. In these meetings, he raised the concerns expressed by many of his constituents. Further, Geoffrey has been pressing Ministers to sanction an independent review of Dartmoor National Park’s management.
First, Geoffrey, along with Sir Gary Streeter MP and Anthony Mangnall MP, wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, calling for an independent inquiry into the management of Dartmoor. Geoffrey also recently secured and led a Westminster Hall debate on this very topic. In this debate, the Government heard multiple calls for an independent process to inquire into the proper balancing of public interests on Dartmoor. In response to Natural England’s plans, the Minister recognised that
“we need time for people to adjust to that, form a business plan and work with those in Natural England who want to achieve the same as the farmers who farm on that moor.”
In his reply, Geoffrey was assured by the Minister for Farming, The Rt. Hon. Mark Spencer MP, that his Department will work alongside Natural England and other local representatives to undertake an independent review. Geoffrey said:
“I am very glad the Government has acceded to this necessary request for an independent process. It is essential that there should be a partnership between all those involved in managing Dartmoor’s precious heritage and it is clear the relationship between our farming communities and Natural England requires urgent repair. I am determined to support our local farming families to sustain viable businesses on the Moor, which are vital to the wellbeing of our communities on Dartmoor, while enabling the condition of our natural landscape to be improved.”
The independent process shall begin shortly and will last twelve months. Geoffrey has already committed to monitoring this closely and will continue to play an active role on behalf of his constituents. The Westminster Hall debate, including Geoffrey’s opening speech and the Minister’s response, can be viewed here.