Exmoor pumps £1.2m into nature-friendly farming projects

The three-year Farming in Protected Landscapes programme includes a total of £1.2 million allocated to Exmoor
The three-year Farming in Protected Landscapes programme includes a total of £1.2 million allocated to Exmoor

Projects creating 5.5km of new wildlife rich hedgerows and 540 hectares to regenerative farming have been awarded funding in Exmoor National Park.

The government’s Farming in Protected Landscapes programme has allocated a total of £1.2 million to Exmoor.

The programme was set up by Defra to support farmers and land managers with the transition to new farm payment schemes.

A special panel chaired by Exmoor farmer Robin Milton has been set up by Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) to oversee the funds locally.

The Exmoor Hill Farming Network and Natural England will provide 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 respond to radio signals emitted by underground cables.

This encourages 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," Ms Williams explained.

Robin Milton, chairman of ENPA, said the Farming In Protected Landscapes scheme was helping to support Exmoor’s unique farming heritage.

"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, and other even older sites of historic interest that are all part of Exmoor’s unique charm.”