A £13m agri-environment agreement –  described as one of the largest and most complex ever – has been unveiled for Dartmoor.

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman unannounced the Higher Level Stewardship package during a visit to the Devon Show on Thursday (17 May).

Over the next 10 years, it aims to help preserve traditional farming methods such as ‘commoning’, enhance habitats for wildlife and safeguard the moor’s unique landscape.

The agreement is one of the largest and most complex Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) deals ever undertaken by Natural England.

It  covers the ‘Forest of Dartmoor’ – an area of more than 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) at the heart of The Moor and one of England’s largest areas of common land.

Speaking at the show, Mrs Spelman praised the achievements of more than 300 Dartmoor ‘commoners’ involved for their hard work and support for the project.

“Dartmoor is a unique area and this agreement, that puts traditional farming methods hand in hand with nature conservation, will help continue a way of farming that has existed for centuries.

“It’s great news all round for the people who live and work in Dartmoor, the thousands of visitors that come to the area every year and the wildlife that it is home to.”

Under the historic practice of ‘commoning’, sheep and cattle have grazed freely over much of Dartmoor for hundreds of years.

The new HLS agreement provides financial support for commoners to graze livestock in ways that will maintain and enhance important natural habitats and help wildlife and plants to thrive.

It will also support habitat restoration projects on the mires and the preservation of many archaeological features in this historic landscape.

Natural England chairman Poul Christensen joined Mrs Spelman on a tour of the showground to meet some of Dartmoor’s farmers.

He said: “This is a significant new chapter in the long history of the Forest of Dartmoor.

“By securing a major source of funding for the moor’s traditional agricultural practices and a decade of support for Dartmoor’s farmers, this agreement will help to preserve this area’s unique farming traditions and enhance its natural environment.

Annual payments will help to safeguard a viable future for the commoners on Dartmoor, as well as delivering habitat enhancement of blanket bog, upland heath and species rich grassland habitats.

The HLS agreement provides an incentive to the commoners to manage the area to maximise the wide range of public benefits provided by the moor.

These include food production, environmental protection, biodiversity enhancement, recreational value, carbon storage and water quality.