CATTLE could all but disappear from Bodmin Moor under the Government's latest plans to try to eradicate bovine TB, critics of the scheme have claimed.
Commoners and the chief executive of its National Park Authority say the traditional sight of hardy native breeds grazing the common lands of Dartmoor – as well as of Exmoor and Bodmin Moor – would disappear if commoners were forced to test all their animals for bovine TB before they moved them on or off the moors.
The proposal was unveiled by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in the House of Commons on Thursday, and is part of a package of measures intended to make the national herd TB-free within 25 years.
Other plans include withholding subsidy from farmers who fail to have their cattle tested for TB on time – a proposal already criticised by National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall, who has demanded all affected farmers have the right to appeal.
Dartmoor National Park Authority chief executive Kevin Bishop said it was the specific impact on the communities of the West Country's high moorland that could be the most dramatic consequence if the measures, being consulted upon, were introduced.
The authority would be concerned if the changes caused cattle to be taken off the moor, said Mr Bishop: "The implication for moorland grazing policy and agri-environment schemes could be significant.
With the Dartmoor Commoners Council, the authority had already penned a joint letter to ministers to highlight concerns.
Grazing on the moors is widely acknowledged to be beneficial for the landscape and other wildlife, keeping down invasive plant cover and helping to provide a habitat for many birds and insects.
Meat from animals which have grazed on the mixed vegetation of the high moorland sells at a premium, but critics of Mr Paterson's plans say once costs are taken out there will be precious little profit in grazing on the moors if farmers are forced to undergo the extra expense and inconvenience of further TB testing.
The seven-week consultation addresses the following proposals:
Requiring cattle from herds at higher risk of TB to undergo testing before being moved to or from common land.
Phasing out the practice of de-restricting parts of TB-restricted premises so that the entire farm is given the same TB risk status.
Sharing the location details of TB breakdowns so farmers can better manage the disease risks to their herds.
In exceptional circumstances where testing an animal for TB is not considered safe, culling the animal without a test.
A Defra spokesman said: "We rigorously enforce cattle movement controls and testing to stop the spread of bovine TB across the country. We are consulting on ways to reduce the impact of the tougher rules on businesses, including waiving pre-movement testing for movements from the common land back to the premises the cattle came from."