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Posted in Press Releases on Saturday 22nd June 2013 at 7:23am
The following was issued as a Press Release on 12 June, 2013.
Dartmoor National Park Authority is yet again poised to send large digging machines into one of the remotest parts of Dartmoor – this time, in August, to the watershed between the rivers Tavy and Cowsic (a tributary of the Dart).
The site is nearly four miles from the nearest public road, with no existing track leading to it. Since 2010 two other areas have been similarly targeted on Winneys Down, west of Fernworthy and 3 miles from the nearest road. Another area, Flat Tor Pan, 2½ miles into the moor, is due to be subjected to machine work in the autumn.
In each area the surface of previously undisturbed, healthy, deep and still growing wet peat has been (or will be) dug up in approximately metre-square blocks. These are then displaced to form numerous small dams, thus creating a network of small ponds, despite there being, on the surface of the peat, naturally developing ponds with their own ecosystems which have not yet been studied.
The Dartmoor Mires Project (costing £1.1m funded over 5 years by rates raised by South West Water) is claimed to be ‘restoring’ 120 hectares of Dartmoor’s blanket bog (12,000 hectares in all).
This is grossly misleading, as no evidence has been presented which provides a model for a ‘restored’ blanket bog. Even more seriously, no scientifically robust evidence has been produced to show that the blanket bog of Dartmoor has eroded or has dried out in recent or historic times any differently from how one would expect an 8,000-year-old peat bog to respond to fluctuations in climate and its own build-up of peat (6–8m in some areas). The Project Delivery Plan (June 2012, p.10) even states that ‘Reliable and accurate data on the extent and condition [of blanket bog] is not available’.
No hydrological monitoring has been done on Winneys Down so we will never know whether the new ponds are making its two areas wetter or not.
The public expects the highest principles of conservation management to be applied to national parks. One of these is the globally accepted precautionary principle of not interfering with natural ecosystems unless there is overwhelming evidence to justify doing so. No such evidence has been presented for the Dartmoor Mires Project.
No evidence or arguments have been presented to justify moving from one area to another, on the basis that new data will be forthcoming. For the work proposed in August the project officer states merely that it will ‘explore the logistical and practical aspects of working’, rather than any specific scientific aim.
Christopher Loughlin, the Chief Executive of South West Water, in a letter of 26 March 2013 to Geoffrey Cox MP, said that the work is being done to ‘reverse interventions of previous generations’. This statement, from the man in charge of the company funding the whole scheme, is entirely erroneous – the areas where work has been done and is planned shows no evidence of human interference such as peat digging, probably because the peat is too wet.
The Dartmoor Society urges all reasoning people, interested in the proper conservation management of Dartmoor, based on scientific principles, to call for an immediate halt to the machine activity of this project which is changing the face of Dartmoor and altering our blanket bogs with unknown consequences.
Dr Tom Greeves, Chairman of the Dartmoor Society, said, ‘We consider the machine work associated with the Mires Project to be the most damaging and pointless activity generated by Dartmoor National Park Authority and its project partners on the high moor of Dartmoor since the creation of the national park more than sixty years ago. A pause will allow time for rigorous assessment of what has been done so far. Until this has been undertaken no further machine work should take place. The heart of wildest Dartmoor is being changed, in the face of fundamental conservation principles.’
Posted in General on Sunday 19th May 2013 at 9:53pm
At the Annual General Meeting on 27 April, the members present approved an increase in the annual subscriptions for the Society for all categories. Single memberships will increase to £14.00 per year and family memberships, to £21.00 per year. These increases will become on January 1, 2014. Life (single) membership subscriptions will also increase, to £280; this increase became effective on 27 April, 2013. Members will receive notification of this change prior to the month in which their subscriptions are up for renewal.
Posted in General on Sunday 19th May 2013 at 9:51pm
The Dartmoor Society Award for 2013 was presented at the 15th Annual General Meeting of the Society on 27 April 2013 to distinguished archaeologist Dr Andrew Fleming.
The Award is made annually to individuals or groups who, in the opinion of the Society, have made a special contribution to Dartmoor.
In the form of a ceramic plate, the Award is uniquely crafted by potter Penny Simpson of Moretonhampstead and calligrapher/artist Susanne Haines of Bovey Tracey. It is inscribed ‘for Andrew Fleming for his archaeological revelations and discourse’.
At the presentation, Dr Tom Greeves said: ‘The Society is recognising Andrew Fleming’s outstanding archaeological work on Dartmoor for more than forty years. In the early 1970s Andrew observed that the sinuous banks of stone running for miles across the moor and known locally as ‘reaves’, were prehistoric territorial boundaries, and that others, more regular and laid out on the same axis, formed thousands of hectares of field systems. His fieldwork and excavations established that Dartmoor has one of the finest surviving prehistoric landscapes of the 2nd millennium BC anywhere in the world. His work has revolutionised our understanding of prehistory not only on Dartmoor, but also elsewhere in Britain and beyond, to the extent that the word ‘reave’ has entered the international archaeological language.
‘His contribution to Dartmoor has not been limited to prehistory – it includes pioneering and transforming work on medieval field systems and, most recently, on medieval communication routes, and pre-Norman Dartmoor.
‘But his work is not that of a mere technician, valuable though that would have been. A hallmark of Andrew’s approach to understanding landscape is his determination and willingness to enter into discussion and debate about the meaning of what he discovers, in his publications and lectures.
‘For this reason we have recognised not only what he has revealed for this and future generations, but also his discourse about it, which sets him apart from many others of his generation. He has been an inspiration and tutor to many, and Dartmoor is indebted to him.’
Posted in Responses/Comments on Sunday 19th May 2013 at 9:46pm
The following is the text of the 10-minute presentation which Dr Tom Greeves gave at the SW Uplands Federation Conference on 19 October 2012.
In the past two decades two core policies of Natural England and DEFRA have been applied to Dartmoor commons which are misplaced, damaging and potentially disastrous in cultural terms – the policies of destocking the commons and rewetting the mires.
The destocking seems to derive essentially from a belief that heather moorland is the optimum vegetation for the Dartmoor commons and that its decline in the post-war period is due to ‘overgrazing’. Neither tenet holds good. What is so special about heather? There certainly was more heather on Dartmoor in the mid-20th century but it was not always so. And did overgrazing really exist? – it did in some very particular areas where poaching occurred but actually the grazing pressure of the 1970s and 1980s was hugely beneficial in terms of the ‘public good’, enabling walkers to roam freely, farmers to tend and gather stock easily, and, of special importance, it revealed a suite of archaeological remains not seen before in the 20th century.
The huge levels of destocking required under so-called environmental schemes (up to around 80% in some instances) in the last two decades have not resulted in the reappearance of heather. Instead we have unpalatable long grasses, and gorse, which impedes access, endangers those gathering stock and obscures one of the finest archaeological landscapes in the world, thus preventing research and analysis.
The second core policy, that of rewetting the mires, has been carried on in various guises since 2007, and is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Dartmoor blanket bog. The bog is old – 8,000 years or so – and inevitably where it has built up to a depth of 2m or more, on slopes of a certain gradient, pieces will occasionally ‘calve’ off like an iceberg from a glacier. If a plateau bog (like Winneys Down 1 and 2 or Flat Tor Pan), pools will form on its flat wet surface. These will eventually revegetate quite naturally as evidenced from the Flow Country of Scotland (4000 square km of blanket bog). The core tenet of this project is that the bog is eroding. Of course it is – all land surfaces erode – but what has not been demonstrated is that this erosion is in any way significant or different to what has happened before. We have eyewitness descriptions going back nearly 200 years (disgracefully not researched by any of the partners in the project) that describe the bogs as they are today – nothing significant has changed. To justify work of the cost and scale now in progress, such significant change should long ago have been demonstrated, based on long-term observation. There are no such data, and there is no crisis that needs dealing with.
Despite five years of so-called pilot schemes, we still have no results in the public domain. The first two schemes at Amicombe and Blackabrook Down were on the sites of commercial peat digging of the 19th century and essentially involved blocking ditches despite these being ecological niches being gently filled by natural means. More recently, with money which supposedly Ofwat has allowed South West Water to raise from its water rates, attention has been turned to previously undisturbed plateau bogs with peat up to 6m deep and still growing. No proof of significant or unexpected erosion has been presented. Astonishingly, machines have been allowed to access these remote areas (Winneys Down 2 is more than 3 miles from the nearest road) to dig blocks of undisturbed peat and vegetation and then use them to create dams behind which water pools as a potential hazard, while forming unsightly tracks etc where no such thing existed before. Yet close at hand in each of these areas are plenty of examples of natural revegetation which has not been observed and monitored.
Three cultures are pertinent here:
The so-called partnership is not one of equals. The dominant culture of Natural England and DEFRA has shown itself to be coercive and arrogant, threatening graziers who hesitate to sign up to HLS or support the Mires Project, or who counter demands to reduce stocking levels. Whose knowledge counts?
The body which has the prime statutory duty (under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985) to look after the husbandry and grazing of the commons is the Commoners Council. All other parties should be supporting this role and subsidiary to it, but able to offer advice and money where appropriate. Restocking of the moorland is essential in order to create the overarching public good of a dominant grassland sward, but one full of subtle variety. The present damaging rewetting programme involving machinery and disturbance should be abandoned immediately. The project should shift radically to one of observation, monitoring and benign research, if need be over a long timescale, recognising that the 12,500 hectares of Dartmoor blanket bog are like an old friend – wrinkled, characterful but wise. Only thus will the core culture of Dartmoor hillfarming be maintained and encouraged.
Tom Greeves illustrated his presentation with several quotes, which are given below:
1. Heather – ‘a symbolic plant in much ‘conservation specialist’ thinking...Yet many ecologists will point to heather-dominated stands of vegetation as among the least species rich’(Prof. Ian Mercer, Dartmoor – A Statement of its Time (2009), 112-3)
2. Livestock numbers on Dartmoor Commons:
c. AD 1200-1500 – a minimum of 10,000 cattle summer grazing on the Forest, plus 10,000 on surrounding commons = 20,000 cattle + 100,000 sheep (Harold Fox, Dartmoor’s Alluring Uplands (Univ of Exeter Press, 2012, 91)
1808 – 14,000 sheep on ‘commons belonging to the parish of Widecombe...besides the usual proportion of horned cattle’ (Charles Vancouver)
October 1942 – estimate by Head Ranger (Endacott) of stock levels on military range: 10,000 sheep, 200-300 cattle (in winter), 2,000-3,000 cattle (in summer), 1500 ponies (National Archives)
November 1942 – estimated numbers of stock on West Quarter : 2,000 bullocks, 10,000 sheep, 1000 ponies (National Archives)
1963 – 2,000-6,000 ponies; 50,000 sheep (Dartmoor Commoners/RSPCA/Horse & Ponies Protection Association)
Pre- Cross Compliance of mid-1990s – approx. 20,000 animals (Andy Guy of Rural Development Service of DEFRA, speaking at 9th Dartmoor Society Debate, 2006, ‘’Designer Wilderness? What Future for Dartmoor’s Vegetation?’)
2006 – fewer than 10,000 animals - since introduction of ESAs in 1994 (Andy Guy, idem).
3. Vegetation:‘The grass is getting so long we’re losing all the birds – the skylarks are going and there are no lapwings any more – and people can’t walk in some places’ (Farmer Donna Penwill quoted in Western Morning News, 12 October 2012).
4. Blanket bog: ‘the East Dart...proceeds down the valley, augmenting considerably as it drains the hill on the west side, which is one immense peat-bog, broken into small banks or hillocks, the intervals being entirely occupied with a swamp of black peat. These several morasses are indeed worthy of inspection, being the origin of numerous brooks and rivers, although little known or visited by the explorers of Dartmoor wonders.’ (May 1830 – Sophie Dixon, A Journal of Ten Days Excursion on the Western and Northern Borders of Dartmoor pp 25-6).
5. Blanket bog: ‘The ground, which for many feet deep is nothing but black peat of a soapy consistency, is rent into chasms running in every direction, and the surface is thus divided into small islands, as it were, covered with a coarse grass...This boggy land...stretches for several miles...and cannot fail to impress him who seeks its solitudes. There is a grandeur about these wild portions of the forest, where nature still reigns with undisputed sway...’ (1888 – William Crossing, Amid Devonia’s Alps or Wanderings & Adventures on Dartmoor pp 127-8).
6. Rewetting: ‘The areas [of Dartmoor] which are currently being wetted do not benefit reservoirs directly’ (Alison Butts, South West Water, email to Elisabeth Greeves, 27 February 2012) .
7. Comments by Dartmoor Commoners’ Council Members on the effects of Destocking/Rewetting, and signing up to ESA/HLS agreements:
‘We have destroyed our living’ - ‘We are indigenous people being pushed and pushed and pushed’ - ‘We don’t trust them [Natural England] any more’ - ‘We are slowly losing our place here’
But compare: ‘I don’t want to alienate people who send us whacking great cheques’.
8. Dartmoor Commoners’ Council: ‘Under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council governs the exercise of common rights, animal husbandry and vegetation management on the commons’ (Dartmoor National Park Management Plan 2007-2012, p.31).
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