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Exmoor environment faces more threats

Exmoor faces threats from a greater number of sources than ever before, a report has claimed.

The Exmoor Society says the decline of hill farming, climate change and second homes are all having a detrimental impact on the moorland way of life and its sensitive environment.

In an attempt to protect the moor the society has called for National Park status to be extended at the south west corner towards Brayford, Molland and West Anstey which are all in an area referred to as Greater Exmoor.

The report states: “Protecting the landscape is a major concern.”

Recent proposals for a series of windfarms in the area surrounding Knowstone have caused particular unrest.

Bob Barfoot, East Knowstone resident and the chairman of the North Devon office of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The CPRE is very concerned about the amount of windfarms being proposed for this area. This is a small community and one that would find its landscape seriously affected by these turbines. These structures would also be visible from Exmoor.”

Meanwhile, the demise of hill farming has also been highlighted.

Andrea Davis, deputy chairman of the Exmoor National Park Authority and a county councillor in North Devon, said: “A lot of people are being forced out because of increasing house prices as a result of people buying second homes.

“If people keep moving out then there will be no young people left in the area and that means there will be no one running the place in years to come. Exmoor will just become a tourist resort.”

She said planning rules needed to be relaxed to allow more homes that are affordable to those already living in local communities to be built.

Coun Davis said the demise of hill farming through lack of investment also meant many people were leaving their parents’ farms.

This is an issue of concern to the National Farmers’ Union. NFU communications director Anthony Gibson said: “If hill farming is to continue then supermarkets need to start paying a fair price for beef and lamb.

“If it stops altogether then we will see a change in the landscape as there will be no livestock to eat back the gorse. It will mean that much of the moor will become covered.”

The Exmoor Society also pledged its continued commitment to its bid for World Heritage Status.

The report says: “The society will continue to argue for an extension of the National Park boundary along the southern ridge and westwards to the North Devon coast on grounds of landscape quality.

“It again called for Exmoor, of outstanding universal value, to seek World Heritage Status as a cultural landscape.”

This, the report says, will help to encourage tourism in the area and help to promote it as an area of educational importance.

North Devon district councillor and vice chairman of the planning committee on Exmoor National Park Authority Richard Edgell said: “There is good reason to extend the moorland at the south western edge as this area is still very much in keeping with the moorland landscape which is something the park authority is able to consider in planning applications.

“There are also benefits from gaining World Heritage Status in that this usually brings money to the area. However, there would need to be the correct balance.

“Too much tourism can mean that people would not get to experience the very aspects of the landscape they came here for in the first place.”

By Peter Harrison

Western Morning News

3 September 2007