Moorland farms need more support on wildlife
Moorland farmers in the Westcountry need greater support from Government if wildlife and habitats are to be preserved, conservationists have warned.
A new report commissioned by the RSPB revealed that changes in livestock grazing in the UK's most vulnerable farming areas could have an impact on threatened species.
It looked at how livestock numbers have changed in so-called "less favoured areas" stretching from Dartmoor to the Western Isles of Scotland.
Farming and conservation experts found reductions in grazing on unenclosed land have been broadly positive for the environment, with upland habitats such as heath and blanket bog recovering well because of fewer sheep.
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However, undergrazing is now occurring in some areas, with adverse impacts for some species such as golden plover which is thought to have become extinct as a breeding species on Dartmoor. Dr Abi Burns, the RSPB's senior agricultural policy officer, said: "It's vital that wildlife friendly livestock farmers in these areas – and across the uplands more widely – are able to continue to sustain the natural diversity and heritage of some of our most iconic landscapes.
"These environmentally important, but economically fragile, systems need better support which recognises the valuable services they can provide for society as a whole.
"Too much or too little grazing, or grazing by the wrong type of livestock, or at the wrong time of year, and these areas can begin to lose their special character."
The RSPB said the work was timely given current discussions on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy. It wants the Government to provide greater support to what it described as "vulnerable" farmers through the Rural Development Programme. Paul Silcock, of Cumulus Consultants which produced the report, said: "This research illustrates the complexity of the linkages between livestock grazing and biodiversity, and the variability across the UK not only in changes in livestock numbers and grazing regimes, but also in the resulting impacts on different habitats and species.
"Combine this with the fact that the continuation of upland grazing is to a large extent dependent on scheme payments, and it underlines the need for a flexible approach in terms of the delivery of this support at local level."
"More should also be done to support positive cattle and sheep grazing by research into more profitable and sustainable upland farming systems, retaining and extending the grazing and land management skills required, and promoting beef, lamb and other products from the uplands," said Mr Silcock.