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‘The Dartmoor Commoners’ Council has been a pioneer for commons management.’ So says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society on the 25th anniversary of the first meeting of the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council on 18 August 1986.
The council was set up following implementation of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 which, uniquely, also gave the public the right to walk and ride over all the Dartmoor commons 20 years before the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provided the right to walk on common land.
Kate continues: ‘The commoners’ council’s achievements on Dartmoor in the 1980s became a template for commons councils in the Commons Act 2006. The Dartmoor Commoners’ Council has shown how graziers, naturalists, recreational users, animal welfare organisations and others can work together for the good of Dartmoor. We want to see similar management regimes for other commons, which recognise the immense public benefit of common land.
‘Dartmoor’s extensive common land plays a crucial role in providing a livelihood for the graziers, a place of natural beauty and quiet recreation for residents and visitors and a treasure house of archaeological and historic remains. It is vital that it is grazed at the right level, so that everyone can continue to enjoy this unique, inspirational wild landscape.
‘Much depends on Defra and Natural England getting the grazing prescriptions right, to ensure the moor is grazed sufficiently to prevent it becoming smothered with impenetrable gorse and bracken, which is bad for the stock, the wildlife, the archaeology and the public. The commoners’ council with bodies such as the Dartmoor Preservation Association are lobbying for a new deal for Dartmoor and the South West uplands.
‘Many other areas of common land in England and Wales would benefit from having well-run commons councils. Unfortunately the Welsh Government has yet to implement part 2 of the Commons Act 2006 which provides for the establishment of commons councils with statutory backing, and it is taking a long time for Defra to set up such councils in England.
‘We congratulate the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council on all it has achieved over the last 25 years and hope it has a long and productive future,’ Kate concludes.