§ Lord NORTHFIELD
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will make a Statement on Lord Porchester's Report A Study of Exmoor.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
As the House was informed on 6th April last, my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food appointed Lord Porchester to undertake a study of changes in the moorland areas of the Exmoor National Park, because they felt that the exceptional character of the moor as a national heritage and the need to balance and safeguard the various interests concerned called for special and immediate study.
My right honourable friends are greatly indebted to Lord Porchester for the fair and expeditious way in which he has conducted the Survey and prepared his report. This was published yesterday and copies are available in the Printed Paper Office.
The report establishes that since 1947 the total area of moorland in the National Park has been reduced by some 12,000 acres. Within the Critical Amenity Area 1349WA defined in 1968, 40,000 acres of moorland remain, of which some two-thirds is either common grazings or publicly owned or unsuitable for agricultural improvement. Lord Porchester expects that farmers may wish to convert more of the privately owned improvable land but cannot predict the timing or extent of this.
Since the Critical Amenity Area was defined and a voluntary notification procedure was introduced with the cooperation of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association, the rate of conversion within the Critical Amenity Area has averaged 100 to 150 acres a year.
Lord Porchester's comprehensive and thoughtful recommendations in relation to the remaining moorland will now need careful consideration by Ministers and I am sure by others to whom they are addressed. Among the matters that Ministers will need to consider in consultation with the interests affected are whether the report has a bearing on any other National Park, what precise legislation would be required to implement it and the financial implications of the recommendations. My right honourable friends intend to treat this as a matter of urgency and hope to reach decisions on the report early in the New Year.
We are all most grateful to the farmers of Exmoor for the co-operation and restraint which they have shown during the past months and are confident that this will continue.