FOLLOWING lobbying from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and a number of Devon MPs, Defra has agreed to hold an independent inquiry into controversial proposals to reduce grazing levels of Dartmoor.

The CLA has consistently raised concerns from its members who graze livestock on common land within the National Park, much of which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Natural England, the government body responsible for ensuring that SSSI's in England are in a favourable condition, has proposed a new reduced grazing regime for sheep, cattle and ponies aimed at improving what it considers to be the poor the condition of sites in Dartmoor.

But farmers, who will have to comply with the new regime to continue receive enhanced funding under the Environmental Stewardship scheme, have warned that reduced or no winter grazing would likely force them out of business and spell the end of many small family farms.

Now, the CLA is calling for an expanded review into Natural England’s performance.

CLA President Mark Tufnell said: “Everyone who cares about nature should worry about the current state of play.

“Natural England’s habit of not checking sites properly, using out of date surveys and its refusal to take into account the needs of the entire landscape has resulted in a near total collapse of confidence among farmers and landowners.

“This puts environmental outcomes, as well as farming businesses, at risk.

“We call on Defra to launch a full-scale review of Natural England’s remit and track record, casting some light on an organisation that does not receive sufficient scrutiny.”