FARMERS and landowners on Exmoor have received powerful support in their battle for recognition in the best way to manage the moorland.
It comes against a background of debate about the grazing of livestock and the overgrowth of gorse and scrub changing the landscape.
The chairman of the Exmoor Society, Rachel Thomas, speaking at the organisation's annual meeting, said too often the views of farmers are dismissed as anecdotal, with government favouring the evidence of scientists.
She confirmed that evidence from the hill farmers is critical to the survival of the moor's character:
"It's the farmers' management that provides the foundation stone of Exmoor's special qualities."
And afterwards Mrs Thomas recognised in recent years it's been more difficult for farmers and landowners to manage the moorland within rules applied by government bodies.
"Natural England will only accept evidence that's been peer reviewed," she said.
"Many of the conditions they put on farmers on Exmoor are applicable to Northern moors. Down here the vegetation grows more quickly and the conditions are different.
"The lack of stock on the moor now is quite amazing, and it's because of the restrictions which lead to expansion of the gorse."
That expansion is already affecting the look of the moor and the ability of stock to graze, she said, and added: "Farmers feel grazing and controlled burning are not worthwhile, and there's such a backlog of work now."
During her annual report she told members: "The Society has evidence of the growth of scrub and gorse on moorland with the consequent deterioration of heather and an increase in bracken, as well as further intensification of the farmland below the moorland line.
"This observational evidence is backed up by reports such as that of Professor Janet Dwyer.
"Local knowledge is crucial for correct management practices but it is sometimes dismissed as only being anecdotal and therefore not evidence.
"An Exeter University anthropologist Dr Martina Tyrrel has said recently: 'Farmers in the UK know their environment in different and often better ways than scientists whose research focuses on specific parts of the environment. Local knowledge in certain ways is not so different from scientific knowledge. Both are founded on observation, on experimentation and on sharing of knowledge and expertise between and across generations'."
Rachel Thomas's report explained that the society continues to be involved in campaigning for hill farming in two areas: "First in helping to recognise the importance of the ecosystem services approach.
"These services are widely defined and include food and cultural services such as landscape quality, recreation and well-being as well as water quantity and quality, carbon sequestration and mitigation of climate change.
"Many of the services are provided by traditional livestock farming and the society supports the drive for finding alternative sources for funding some of them. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is being trialled on Exmoor through the Mires project. The second area is the involvement of the Society in the debate on moorland management."