Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Introduction and Project Overview

  • The main part of the Graze the Moor project took place on Molland Moor, Exmoor from April 2014 until March 2019. 
  • This blog has been set up to provide reports of the findings of the key elements of the project. 
  • Links are included to the final report from the project and the detailed reports that cover the component parts of the project. 
  • There is a comment facility and any feedback will be very welcome.
  • Molland Moor covers 681ha (1680 acres) on the southern ridge of Exmoor National Park; it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated as open heathland; a Special Area of Conservation and a Principal Archaeological Landscape.
  • Graze the Moor was a 5-year project that ran from April 2014 until March 2019, and it followed a 2-year case study that took place 2012-14.
  • The project started with a concern about the steep decline of heather cover. The landowner questioned accepted practice on moorland management and wanted to working with others to explore different management methods.
  • Historic land management techniques were considered and new methods were trialled. The project was not afraid to be bold, where it was deemed appropriate.
  • The project has highlighted the complexity of moorland management, as a wide range of interdependent issues have to be considered. Usually, there is no standard prescription, and the work has identified many knowledge gaps.
  • The importance of the support received from partners cannot be overstated.
  • Funding was provided by: 
    • The Exmoor National Park Authority’s Partnership Fund (£48,521), 
    • ENPA’s Heart of Exmoor Project (£8,242). 
    • Partners contributed in-kind support for the project (original budget £63,950). 
    • Local grant making bodies (The Malcolm McEwan Trust and the Badgworthy Trust provided support of £3,150 for specific parts of the project. 
    • During the project additional in-kind funding of £17,400 was obtained.
  • Collaborative working has allowed: 
  • Trust and understanding to develop between the partners. 
  • Consensus to be achieved easily about the best approach to adopt for the management of the moor. 
  • A flexible approach to be used that has permitted new initiatives to be considered and adopted during the course of the project. 
  • The project to deliver a wide range of outcomes. 
  • This project to develop Molland Moor as a local centre of excellence, able to demonstrate the benefits that empowering local people can provide.
Further Information
  • The Graze the Moor Project Final Report
    • Foreword, Introduction, Executive Summary and Overview (Section1)

Economic Comparison

  • Allowing stock to remain on Molland Moor through the winter was a key component of the project.
  • The stock were provided by Luckworthy Farm. This was a new farming tenancy set up at the start of the project, and part of the agreement was that the farm would graze hardy cattle and sheep on the moor.
  • A primary objective for the project was to compare the financial position of a cattle enterprise using the moor throughout the year with a similar sized enterprise where cattle are housed during the winter.
  • As Molland Moor is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, the stocking levels were agreed with Natural England.
Table 1 - Winter and Summer Stocking Rates
  • Data were collected from Luckworthy Farm and analysed by the Royal Agricultural University. Gross margins and other basic performance indicators were calculated for both the cattle and sheep moorland enterprises.
  • The combined results from Luckworthy were compared with comparable farms in the Farm Business Survey (FBS), which are identified as ‘Less Favoured Area Sheep and Beef’.
  • Information was not collected in the first two years, to allow the new stock enterprises time to settle down.  In the second year of data collection, the farm was under bovine TB (bTB) restrictions for 12 months, which reduced the comparability of the financial data.
Table 2 - Gross margins per head over the 2 years - Molland compared to FBS data


Analysis of the economic performance suggests that using the moor does not disadvantage the farm business economically, if suitable hardy stock are kept.
Outputs are lower, but costs are also lower.
Data collection is continuing and this will increase the level of confidence in these results.

Further Information

Grazing Management

  • The grazing history of Molland Moor was established through discussion with local, retired farmers whose personal memories went back to the early 1950s. 
  • The moor was more heavily stocked in the past, with up to 3,000 sheep being turned out in July and August. 
  • Before the project, under the terms of an agreement with Natural England, winter grazing by sheep was allowed (1 ewe/ha) but winter grazing by cattle was not permitted. Exmoor ponies and Red deer grazed the moor all year. 
  • Through the project, traditional, hill livestock – predominantly Black Galloway cattle and Welsh Mountain sheep – were introduced and 60 head of cattle were allowed to remain on the moor during the winter. 
  • The swaling (burning) programme across the moor has served to spread the grazing pressure and avoid some local over-grazing problems, although there are still some areas where over-grazing but also under-grazing is apparent. 
Table 1 - Grazing Levels
  • The cattle tested positive for Bovine TB in the final year of the project and this prevented any sales of stock for 12 months. 
  • Supplementary feeding was given to the cattle over the winter months to supplement their diet, but also to move then around the moor to prevent localised over-grazing, and encourage them to graze areas where they provided benefit.
  • The cattle and sheep have thrived on Molland Moor. 
  • The output from the livestock enterprises has not been as high as from other systems but in compensation the inputs have reduced. 
  • Indications at the end of the project are that the production of the livestock enterprises is equivalent to ‘Less Favoured Area Sheep and Beef’ farms 
Further Information 

Molinia Control

  • The area of Purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea on Molland Moor is expanding and this species is replacing heather.
  • In 2014, a Molinia Control Study was established to identify the best treatment to control Molinia on the Moor.  Plots were established in two trial areas to compare the impact of three different techniques: cutting, burning and spray-burn-reseed; a fourth plot was established as a control.
  • The plots were unfenced, and a wildfire burned through one of the trial areas in March 2016. 

Fig 1. Results from one of the trial areas (Moor Lane)
  • The results from this work offer an early insight to the effectiveness of the various techniques in the presence of grazing.  Although outside the project, the intention is to continue the monitoring of the recovery of the plots with a view to establishing a comparison between the different techniques, over a longer-term.
  • The spray-burn-reseed treatment is the most effective method to reduce the abundance of Molinia.
  • To maximise the effectives of the cutting treatment, the cut material should be removed.
  • Data collection over a longer-term is required to establish a comparison between the different techniques that is closer to real-life.
  • It seems likely that most of the remaining stands of heather-dominated vegetation at Molland will soon be lost without concerted and targeted management that aims to favour heather at the expense of Molinia.
Further Information
  • The Graze the Moor Project Final Report – section 9.
  • The 2013 report by Dave Boyce and the Aerial Photo Analysis report by the DBRC – available in the Project Report Folder.

Sheep Tick Survey

  • Sheep ticks and the diseases they spread were identified as a threat, part way through the project.
  • Specialist input was sought from Professor Roy Brown, who has experience of monitoring tick populations and analysis to identify the diseases they carry.
  • The tick population on the moor was found to be very high 
    • The average number of ticks (of all life stages) on a 30m2 plot in the 12 locations tested is 2.7. A high impact value is generally set at 0.5 ticks per 30m2.
  • The analysis of the ticks identified that a wide range of tick-borne diseases is present; these have the potential to have significant impact on livestock, humans and wildlife. 
    • Four pathogens were positively identified: Flavivirus, Ehrlichia, Babesia and Borrelia.
    • Staphylococus aureus was present universally.
  • Engorged ticks were collected from 10 cattle. 
    • All tested positive for tick-borne fever Anaplasma phagocytophilum
    •  In humans and animals, this disease can compromise the immune system.
  • The sheep tick population on Molland Moor provides a high level of risk to the health and welfare of humans, livestock and wildlife.
  • Further work is required to establish the full extent of the threat and to develop a strategy for mitigating the risk. 
    • This work commenced in the 12-month extension to the project and it will continue beyond, if possible.
  • Additional work is taking place to establish the impact of Red Deer on the spread of tick-borne diseases and whether the deer can be linked to the spread of Bovine TB. 
Further Information

Vegetation Surveys

Vegetation Changes
  • Two reports established trends in the change of vegetation on Molland Moor.
  • The 2013 report by Dave Boyce, the independent ecologist on the Graze the Moor project, drew attention to the loss of heather cover, in the period 1991 – 2013, and the increase in the area of Molinia.
    • The heather cover on Molland Moor has declined very markedly over the last two decades.
    • This decline is continuing and without management, heather dominant areas will continue to degenerate towards species-poor, Molinia dominated vegetation.
  • The vegetation changes were confirmed by the aerial photo analysis carried out by the Devon Biodiversity Records Office (DBRC). 
    • This analysis considered the vegetation changes that have taken place since the post-war aerial photographs were taken in 1947. 
    • The area of heather has declined by 56.2% in this period.
Figure 1: Decline in Heather Cover and Increase in Grass and Bog areas

Annual Vegetation Monitoring
  • Since 2012, Natural England has carried out annual surveys to monitor the impact of management on the vegetation on Molland Moor. Each year, 28 points were surveyed across the moor.
  • There are two SSSI units on the moor, and the condition of both is assessed as “Unfavourable – recovering”. For more information see the designated Sites webpage:
  • The decline in the cover of heather and the expansion in the area of Molinia, since 1947, has been significant.
  • One of the aims of the project was to prevent further change and in time it is hoped that some of this change can be reversed.
  • Overgrazing of heather during the winter months is beginning to show through and to be a concern.
  • There is a suggestion that stock numbers could be increased to assess the impact of higher grazing pressure on old stands of heather and areas where Molinia is dominant.
Further Information

Vegetation Management

  • Throughout the project, with support from Natural England through Higher Level Stewardship, the Molland Estate has continued with a programme of management work. 
    • This has supplemented the grazing management provided by the cattle, sheep, ponies and Red deer.
  • A swaling (burning) programme has been continued.
    • Approval was granted by Natural England to burn some larger fires to achieve management of more heather during the project than would otherwise have been possible.
    • As is often the case, it was not possible to burn every year and this resulted in a smaller burnt area than planned.
    • Burning operations were supported by the Exmoor NPA rangers, but in later years this was restricted to the loan of a water bowser only. 
    • Local experience of swaling has been regained. This has allowed the estate to carry out swaling operations without relying on external support.
  • European Gorse has been cut on many parts of the moor.
    • Gorse had invaded many parts of the Moor.
    • Some regrowth was controlled by treating the stumps with glyphosate.
    • The cut areas will be monitored to establish if cattle will control any regrowth by browsing on young shoots during the winter.
  • Bracken Control has taken place, using a range of techniques, including a horse-drawn bruiser.
  • Heather Beetle
    • Much of the heather on the moor has been badly affected by heather beetle in the last 10 years.
    • There is no direct management control for this beetle. The best option is to avoid large areas of old heather that could be killed in a single outbreak of heather beetle.
Further Information