March 3, 2024


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A turbulent Brexit for English pastoral sheep farmers

A turbulent Brexit for English pastoral sheep farmers

On Dartmoor (a region in the south-west of England), the rangelands are home to a rich biodiversity, which is admired by English conservationists. Here, the silence is broken, lambs around their motherless cubs and ferns, whose size often exceeds the height of the animals. Remains of agricultural activities dating back to the Bronze Age can be found in this national natural park, interspersed between incised valleys and peat plateaus, pierced by “tars” – these famous rock ridges. Atlantic heath vegetation covers what the British call rangelands are common.

Combine sheep and cattle of breeds that are more or less difficult to graze

Farms are composed mainly of arable land that produces forage on the land, either as rangelands or on separate plots. Pastoralism depends on complementing the goat-herds and different breeds, with up to three herds of different hardiness for each breed. After the introduction of stricter environmental measures in the 1990s–2000s, which marked the beginning of restrictions on the use of rangelands, ranchers adapted using the three-way crossing system in particular. Hardy ewes (often Scottish Blackface or Swaledale) are crossed with a prolific ram (Bluefaced Leicester) to produce donkeys bred by rams of a more compatible breed such as Texel or Charolais. Rigid animals make the most of rangeland areas, while hybrid animals graze individual permanent grasslands. Lambs from terminal crosses are sold before winter, which avoids feed costs. Outside of Dartmoor only farms with high arable land have hardy sheep in addition to their grazing flocks. In rangelands, there is always a herd of goats and a herd of cattle as grazing areas are set aside. Additionally, the iconic Dartmoor ponies live almost entirely in the wild are common. In this way, breeders take advantage of all their resources, from temporary grasslands to rangelands (see table).

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Paths are covered with lightly grazed vegetation.

Moorland trails with significant cultural and natural heritage are subject to strong environmental concerns. According to the government, grazing and burning should be used judiciously to protect these areas. In fact, the latter is usually used to control the growth of lightly grazed species (shrubs, ferns, etc.). For twenty years now, the government has routinely reduced the number of animals in the wild with minimal burning. ” We head straight for the wild side of the tracks » laments Leland Branfield, a member of the British Trust, a farmer with 85 dairy cows and 520 goats. are common. ” Ferns, gorse and molinea continue to grow and come back even stronger after each burn. These plants do not promote biodiversity, they outcompete other plants that grow. » To make matters worse, here the UK is now engaged in Brexit, with a directive to eliminate all direct payments through Agri-Environmental Measures (AEM) to subsidize farmers' environmental initiatives only.

Towards the loss of genetic and cultural heritage

Almost all the courses are involved in the decennial MAEs that will end this year or next year. For each path, Natural England (the government agency responsible for implementing the MAE) recommends reducing the number of animals in rangelands more or less depending on the state of the ecosystems. Also, on are common They are considered so damaged that no sheep will be recognized during the winter. Leland explains: “ That Natural England Our hardy sheep range all year round and don't take into account that each flock has learned to stay in its zone. This they pass on to the lambs, and our animals do not mix, even with no fence or shepherd. Additionally, they are particularly immune to tick-borne diseases. These are both reasons why some of us have self-conscious herds for over 100 years! What is the use of keeping hardy breeds if you stop grazing sheep in the winter? If we were to bring them back to our grasslands, or worse indoors, we might have more productive animals. However, many of us don't have the opportunity to feed high-yielding animals. What is the status of these breeders? We must not forget that on rangelands we produce live animals fattened elsewhere. What will be the impact on the industry as a whole for breeders buying from us? »

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Putting knowledge at the service of the environment

A study by researchers from Institute of Rural and Social Research (CCRI) shows that grants currently represent more than 100% of cattle farmers' income on Dartmoor. The fall in subsidies combined with stronger environmental barriers from Brexit is dangerous for these growers and their knowledge. ” We, the growers, can direct vegetation growth, maintain landscape, and control fire hazards through grazing and burning. We have knowledge and know-how that has been passed down from generation to generation, but we must work hand in hand with ecosystems and not oppose them head-on like today. Although we have only been implementing the agency's recommendations throughout the year, many breeders feel that Natural England is responsible for all moors' ills. »