DEFRA Secretary George Eustice has made it clear he expects Exmoor farmers to be fully involved in any proposals to re-wild an area of the national park.
The issue was raised with him by Exmoor’s MP Ian Liddell-Grainger at a meeting on Tuesday night.
Exmoor’s nature conservation advisory panel – drawn largely from external wildlife organisations – has already agreed in principle to press ahead with the scheme.
It would see 26 square miles of the park – 10% of its total area –being allowed to revert to wilder areas such as wetlands, scrub and woodlands.
The national park authority has now put the scheme out to consultation with interested groups – including with farmers.
But Mr Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said the way park officials had gone about the process was a huge insult to the agricultural community.
“It really is treating farmers like cattle,” he said.
“The Secretary of State made it quite clear he expected Exmoor farmers to be central to this process – and anyone who knows anything about Exmoor would agree that is the only way to proceed.
“It’s only thanks to farmers that Exmoor is so well cared for and so attractive to tourists and it’s time the national park authority acknowledged that and accorded them the respect they deserve rather than treating them like serfs.
“Pressing ahead with these ludicrous proposals to the stage they have reached without the fullest consultation with the people who are most directly involved is not only discourteous, it smacks of a park management that has become totally obsessed with half-baked conservation policies to the exclusion of everything else.
“The authority would do well to stop and remind itself who looks after the moor, who brings in the business, and who ensures this outstanding area of England continues to enjoy national park status so that the Government is content to go on funding the administrators who oversee it.
“I have agreed to keep George Eustice fully up to speed on this issue as and when I see fit.”