Upland Life in Dartmoor: Why Farmers Matter

Living on Dartmoor is an honour. Running our smallholding, where we raise sheep and grow apples, is a pleasure - even with the inevitable ups and downs. We are sensitive to the environment and see ourselves as custodians of this land, mindful of its history and traditions.

For years we have seen the yearly influx of visitors and competing demands for access, costs often born by farmers who take pride in the land they farm and are happy to share it. But our day to day life is shaped by the seasons.

For example, the sheep need moving depending on grass availability, areas that need grazing, fodder requirements and their health. If the winter is long and harsh, we supplement their diets and provide hay from the summer. If it’s a good growing season and harvest, all is well.

The orchard has its autumn prune and calcification. We wait for spring, for buds bursting and pollination with the help of our beehive colonies. In a good year, with frosty winters, plenty of sun in the summer and enough rain, the harvest is successful and all is well.

But none of us can deny that there is change in the air. The seasons are off and the weather less predictable. The realities of climate change are not in some far-off land but in the day to day, shaped by seasons that are less and less reliable.

It is clear that this might impact feed, harvest and the wellbeing of our animals. It is less clear what exactly the future will hold. Articles in this publication have highlighted some of these concerns, such as soil health, and what we can do to mitigate some of their impacts.

Insect apocalypse

The threat that is posing a real concern for me right now is the loss of insect life. As is so often the case, the pest insects seem to be faring better, but all insects are necessary for a balanced system. We rely on bees and insect pollination for our harvest. The impact of colony collapse is not far from our minds, as bees pollinate a third of our UK crops. We are now being forced to ask: what can we do?

April’s article in the journal Since Direct highlighted this impact. For example, widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on framed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to the journal PlosOne. This loss of species has an impact not just on farming but on the wider ecosystem and health of the land. The greatest danger now is that we do nothing.

We can create pollinator corridors, question pesticide practice and look at agri-environmental ideas, such as the Dartmoor Farming Futures pilot. This promoted a rethink and utilised farmers’ skills and expert knowledge to achieve beneficial environmental goals and encourage traditional farming practices.

We now have a choice. As someone who is passionate about farming and the land, I am standing for Renew, a party that is growing ideas from the ground up without a politician in sight. Farmers have a say, and their skills, knowledge and heritage are celebrated here.

Whoever our future leaders are, it is time to make forward-thinking farmers a big part of the conversation.

By Draeyk Van der Horn

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