AN ambitious £2-million project to protect peatland on Dartmoor from erosion has caused concern with local farmers.

The three-year Three Moors Project to restore 1,680 hectares of damaged peatland on Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor is a partnership of regional and local organisations, including South West Water.

The organisations recently applied for funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and were awarded a boost of £2-million.

But the project has caused concerns with local farmers as the project will process ‘without surveying the area to see if it would actually meet the purposes it is designed for’.

Peter Heard, a Dartmoor farmer, said he would be directly affected as his animals graze on a particular area planned for the project.

‘The proposal is to “re-wet” the ground by building hundreds of dams across gullies allowing the rain water to be retained and not drained. This is to protect the peat there from erosion and to encourage its regeneration.

‘Sounds good on the face of it, but it hasn’t even been surveyed or proven that the peat is suffering. Therefore taking digging machinery, tractors etc to be utilised at the site for something which is unlikely to be necessary, is very dubious indeed.’

He added: ‘If it were to go ahead, the ground would become approximately ten hectares of complete mire. It would be mostly impassable and be a danger to both moor users and animals alike. Only in the last few weeks, a cow was nearly lost in this area because it is so wet even given the recent dry spell. To make it wetter will increase the danger of the area and seems totally pointless and unnecessary.

‘This, together with the irreversible scarring which the project would cause to our beautiful, rugged landscape makes the whole idea totally ludicrous and a complete waste of your and my money.’

The project will be led by Morag Angus, South West Water’s Exmoor Mires Partnership manager. Morag explained: ‘The peatlands of south-west England are very important for water quality, carbon storage, biodiversity, cultural history, recreation and farming, but they are the most vulnerable in the UK to the impacts of climate change, due to their southerly position.

‘For this reason they need to be prioritised nationally and restored for the benefit of all and future generations.’

Alison Kohler, director of conservation and communities at Dartmoor National Park, said: ‘Dartmoor Peatland Partnership is pleased that Defra has approved the grant funding. The Peatland Partnership on Dartmoor is supporting the restoration plans through financial and in kind support.’

She added that the partnership will work closely with landowners and farmers to ensure that restoration ‘not only maximises environmental enhancement but fits with farming practices and public access’.

South West Water said that the wetland habitats were ‘complex ecosystems’ — the demise of which across the moors has resulted in changes in the moorland ecology, including the loss of iconic species such as dunlin, golden plover and Sphagnum mosses.

The project is due to start this month.