A recent independent report from Land Use Consultants uses photomontage techniques to illustrate the negative impacts of reducing livestock levels over the next 30 years. The report, commissioned by EBLEX, an organisation that exists to enhance to profitability and sustainability of beef and lamb farming in England, illustrates the likely visual impact over time on a number of English landscapes, including Dartmoor, arising from a reduction in livestock numbers.
Arguments from some quarters have called for livestock numbers to be reduced as an effective way to cut environmental emissions, which would compound problems already arising from under-grazing on some upland landscapes.
Five different environments were identified in which livestock play a major role in maintaining the distinctive landscape character. These were Uplands (North York Moors), Hillsides (Pickering), Rotational Pasture (Romney Marsh), Upland Hillsides (Exmoor) and Moorland (Dartmoor). LUC visited each site and took panoramic photographs representing the characteristic features of each landscape and using them as “control” images. A narrative describing the likely future evolution of each, based on assumptions about the nature of a decline in stock numbers is then used to develop additional photomontages showing the same landscapes after 3 years, 10 years and 30 years.
Of the five landscape the report observes that Dartmoor is the least likely to be subject to transformation of land use as a result of declining markets. Dartmoor is already subject to low levels of grazing. Since 2000, livestock numbers have fallen by a quarter, with the sheep flock declining by 31% and cattle by 17%. The report considers that agri-environment schemes will continue largely due to the importance of the moorland’s biodiversity, landscape character, archaeology and stored carbon in peat soils. However, it observes that over the last 20 years, conservation grazing has failed to rejuvenate shrub heathland and blanket bog and purple moorgrass has become over dominant.
But in the 30 year scenario presented here, grazing has ceased and the scrub and self sown conifers break up the consistent vastness of the Dartmoor landscape and stone walls become a relic of the landscape’s working past. The proliferation of moorgrass leaves the landscape vulnerable to wild fires emphasising a feeling of abandonment and neglect.
The vision presented in this report makes an interesting contrast to that presented by Natural England in their publication Vital Uplands – A 2060 vision for England’s Upland environment. What both reports agree upon is the essential nature of grazing in the uplands in order to deliver a sustainable landscape for both agriculture and public amenity. There less agreement about the nature of the grazing regimes that will achieve this.