The mystery of the Dartmoor gift pony…

Lone pony, Dartmoor. Photo by Anthea Simmons

The mystery of the Dartmoor Gift Pony! This one is all about who’s going to pay for the independent review of farming on Dartmoor.

At the Dartmoor debate the other day, Geoffrey Cox (MP for Torridge and West Devon) could not have been clearer in his call for an independent reviewer to consider the current situation on the moor:

‘The proposal is that an independent reviewer be appointed, possibly by the Minister himself, and paid for by the stakeholders at no cost to the Government. Who would look a gift horse in the mouth?’ 


So there you have it: there is apparently, according to Cox, a “gift horse” – or more appropriately on Dartmoor, a “gift pony”

But who is this mystery pony?

If the review is not going to use government cash that would rule out Defra, Natural England (NE) or Dartmoor National Park Authority or any other public body providing the funding.

Fair enough, really. That would mean taxpayer cash when both the Park and NE are short.

So who does that leave?

Well there’s the Dartmoor Commoners Association. But at their monthly meeting last night some did not sound keen about funding this … and with others it seemed it wasn’t clear what they might fund.

But then, surely such funding would not make the review very “independent”?

Especially if payment meant it would buy influence on scope, terms of reference and chairperson etc?

Then there’s the Dartmoor Common Owners. Well, I’m sure the Duke of Cornwall and Alexander Darwall could probably chip in, but again, that doesn’t sound very “independent”, does it?

Or perhaps the MPs who called for it could fund it – perhaps Geoffrey Cox himself could write the cheque?

But that doesn't seem right either?

So who exactly is going to fund it if there's going to be no cost to government? Where is the gift pony?

Perhaps we should all chip in, and make it a people’s review – after all, ultimately this is about how our taxes are spent, isn’t it?