Farmers have been taken aback by a government order to get all their sheep off Okehampton Common for the winter, to give the vegetation time to rewild itself.

It came from Natural England, the government contractor which sets the standards for the “environmental stewardship” required to qualify for Defra grants.

Natural England has been reducing the number of sheep allowed to graze the moor for some time but has not gone this far anywhere before – and other Dartmoor farmers are worried that the same thinking will get them next.

The proposal is to shut the common from end of this September to end of March, but most of the sheep would probably never return. It would be difficult and expensive to make alternative over-wintering arrangements for hundreds of animals. Most would have to be sold and years of work invested in getting flocks accustomed to their alloted ground, through ancestral memory, would be thrown away.

Sheep have lived off the moor for centuries but it takes 20 years to bed a new flock in.

The shouts of protest brought MP Geoffrey Cox out to meet the farmers this week and some discussion is now taking place, although the ruling was originally presented as final, with no means of appeal available. Meanwhile, theoretically, the clock is ticking down to an end of September deadline.

Layland Branfield, Princetown farmer and vice-chairman of Dartmoor Commoners, said that previously Defra had encouraged Natural England to work with the farmers to find sensible ways to benefit the environment. But the whole business of stewardship funding is under review and Natural England, fighting for its place, now seems to be setting new targets to prove itself best custodian of green concerns.

Mr Branfield said: “There is a scientific consensus that removing sheep would be good for diversity but there is no evidence from anywhere that it is. And it might have unintended consequences. When they took most of the cattle off the moor in winter, one of the effects was loss of good habitat for curlews, so now we need to save the curlew. Environmental initiatives have had demonstrably more impact on the wild flora and fauna over the past 20 years than global warming or anything else.”

A statement from Natural England said: “Okehampton Common is part of the North Dartmoor Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Dartmoor Special Area of Conservation and Natural England has worked closely with commoners to put in place grazing management which balances the needs of farmers, wildlife, cultural heritage, recreational users and the contribution the common makes to Dartmoor’s special landscape qualities.

“Management on the common has been supported through an Environmental Stewardship scheme aimed in part at restoring the heather and bilberry heathland that contributes to the site’s national importance for wildlife. We are working with the commoners on changes they can make to ensure their scheme is a success.”

Neil Parish, a farmer who is MP for Tiverton & Honiton, is raising questions alongside Mr Cox. He said yesterday: “I can understand some concern about overgrazing and poaching of the soil but taking all the sheep off is probably a step too far. Better to limit numbers.”



Government targets for new housing will deliver a million homes more than needed by 2030 and another two million surplus to requirements by 2040, according to an analysis of the Housing Ministry’s guidance to local authorities on how to calculate need.

The political pressure to “build build build” is making vast profits for land agents like the one which has been leafleting Horrabridge lately, looking for demand for new homes which can be quoted in planning applications. They do all the procedural work for a group of landowners and then take a cut when a new estate is built. Forty houses at Binkham Fields, Yelverton, is their next local target but there are dozens like it on the go everywhere.

Devon CPRE, an independent offshoot of the old Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, has been arguing for some time that the building is outstripping the demand, especially in Devon. Now it has commissioned a report, called How Many Homes?, which backs up that argument with a detailed analysis of the policy being driven through by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

The research was carried out by a consultancy specialising in housing need, Opinion Research Services of Swansea. Their report says the ministry has been working with out-of-date figures. More people are dying and fewer are being born than once projected.

In a foreword, Devon CPRE trustee and spokesman Phillip Bratby says: “There needs to be an urgent review of national housebuilding targets and policies which force metrocentric housing targets into rural areas. These targets fail to deliver for local people by deliberately encouraging private developers to build thousands of unsuitable, unsustainable and unaffordable houses all over our countryside.”

To get a copy of the full report you have to sign up here –

A spokesman for the ministry commented: Local housing need proposals provide a guide for councils on how many homes may be needed in their area. Councils will still need to consider local circumstances to decide how many homes should be delivered. We’re consulting on the proposals and will reflect on the feedback we receive.”



The Dartmoor Inn’s relaunch as a farm shop and bistro was initially scheduled for the day the lockdown summer started, which was rotten luck for moor farmer Mark Bury and his family business, Eversfield Organics. But the home deliveries side took off because of it and since the beginning of July, outdoor seating and a few spaced indoor tables have enticed a steady stream of grateful trippers  for ice creams, pasties, teas and drinks, and the shop has been building custom.

Last piece of the planned jigsaw was going to be the Eversfield Organic Bar and Grill at Merrivale – in the old pub itself – and we are assured this is still on the cards for this autumn, although exactly when is not yet decided.

PS: Pizza Night is back at The Salmon this Sunday.



The new way to Tintagel, by Max Law of Horrabridge:

Talk photography with Max at

allfornow …

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Editor of The Horrabridge Times.