Dartmoor is an important resource for the whole of Devon. It supplies water to around one million people from its moors, bogs and rivers. For over 5,000 years farming has been the main land use on Dartmoor. Working and re-working the land, farmers and landowners have created and maintained Dartmoor as you see it today. Harford Moor is very much a living and working landscape.

A pale pink wild orchid growing in a mixture of different grasses
A heath-spotted orchid on Harford Moor

The northern half of Harford Moor is part of the South Dartmoor Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. It has international importance as the southern-most blanket peat bog in all of Europe. The moor also is home to large numbers of small mammals and birds. To find out more, have a look at our Ecology and Soils page.

Dartmoor farmers manage the land in a way that ensures that unique habitats, species and historical features are conserved, while grazing makes access to the moor easier. All livestock (cattle, sheep and ponies), vegetation and wildlife on Harford Moor are under the stewardship of the Harford and Ugborough Commoners’ Association. The Association is made up of the landowners and the ‘commoners’, who have ancient rights of grazing on the Dartmoor commons attached to their enclosed farmland.

In recent years, the Commoners’ Association has increased the amount of conservation work it carried out. This is needed because of the increasing numbers of people using Harford Moor for recreation, as well as changes in weather patterns. Management for conservation also has to take into account the long-term effects of industrial and agricultural activities over the last hundred years. For example, the dominance of Molinia (purple moor grass) on the peaty upper slopes appears to be related partly to drainage work undertaken for the Redlake and Leftlake china clay works between 1910 and 1930, and heavy cattle stocking in the 1980s. No one knows how best to improve the soils and vegetation in this context, so strategies tend to evolve quite frequently.

Current conservation practices used by the Harford and Ugborough Commoners’ Association include:

  • Swaling (burning) to encourage walkers and riders to spread out along popular routes, to encourage the growth of new grass and to control gorse growth in certain areas.
  • Rolling and spraying bracken to encourage livestock to graze on lower slopes that aren’t as vulnerable to erosion.
  • Cutting gorse to block certain sections of footpath to control erosion.
  • Blocking some footpaths with large rocks, to encourage walkers, riders and livestock to keep to stone-laid tracks.
  • Creating and monitoring grazing exclusion plots to study the effect of grazing on plant growth.
An exclusion plot made up of four metal gates tied together in a square, above the river Erme on a misty day
One of the grazing exclusion plots