Stakeholders’ attitudes to Dartmoor commons tradition – talk by Adrian Colston on 11 June 2018

“Stakeholders’ attitudes to the narrative of Dartmoor Commons tradition and the search for consensus in a time of change”    Adrian Colston

Of the many stakeholders using the Dartmoor Commons each have their own claims, ambitions and attitudes to the management of these vastly important spaces on the High Moor. The conflicting opinions pull the action for conservation in many different directions even though in most cases the aims are the same.

Adrian related each of the stakeholders’ stories, their beliefs and expectations for the future. Using scientific and sociological data he guided us through the maze of conservation theories for the changes on The Moor. A complex web of cause and effect have given concern for the dramatic and disturbing decline of our iconic species such as Curlew, Dunlin and Golden Plover – species that traditionally bred on the upland areas of Dartmoor.

He explored popular theories such as over-grazing, “Sheepwreck”.   Nitrogen overloading, atmospheric pollution and increased low altitude ozone leading to habitat reconfiguration reducing heather, which sheep eat, in favour of dominant Purple Moorgrass. Climate change has affected rainfall and seasonal temperatures. Increased soil acidity diminishes soil bio-diversity and our recreational activities cause soil erosion and compaction.  However archaeologists favour the grazed Commons to maintain exposed historic sites.

 Adrian concluded that there is a great need for compromise and consensus between all stakeholders – a massive sociological challenge for the future of these key habitats. This compromise may come through “Soft rewilding” where small changes alongside existing practice may herald the shift in attitude essential for these special eco-systems to thrive again.

Action has already been taken to improve nest areas for breeding Dunlin by improving the wet moorland. Cuckoos need trees to find Meadow Pipits’ nests to parasitize and breed.  Planting a few trees in key locations would be relatively easy but not detrimental to grazing.  Through a programme of marginal changes major species gains may be made.

Follow Adrian’s work and data that underpins these concepts by visiting “A Dartmoor blog”.

 John Lloyd