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Dartmoor Society Statement on Peatland Conservation and Restoration

Posted in Policy Statements on Tuesday 4th May 2021 at 10:14pm

Dartmoor is recognised as one of the foremost cultural landscapes in the UK and the Dartmoor Society places equal value on the cultural and the natural landscape.

“There is no part of moorland Dartmoor which does not contain cultural content.”
Tom Greeves, Dartmoor and the Displacement of Culture: Analysis and Remedy (2015)

Dartmoor’s wet uplands are increasingly valued for their role in hydrology and carbon sequestration but they are also delicate ecosystems and world renowned archaeological landscapes, where there is evidence of human activity stretching back to the Mesolithic period.

In recent years climate change has focused attention on Dartmoor blanket peat and its ability to retain water. There is no clear consensus as to the extent of the degraded peat or the best way to conserve damaged areas. Research and monitoring by the University of Exeter continues to aid understanding in terms of successfully retaining water and providing environmental benefits on Dartmoor and beyond. The Dartmoor Society does not dispute the science or the need for some form of peatland conservation. The South West Peatland Partnership is a huge undertaking and we recognise its potential for positive impacts to climate change, hydrology, wildlife habitats and the wider ecology.

However, from our own observations we think that a more nuanced approach should be adopted to ensure that existing and undiscovered archaeological sites and landscapes are protected. We consider that the current method of digging up large areas of healthy vegetation to form dams, (bunds) and the remodelling of exposed peat faces is overly invasive. The resultant deep pools are potential hazards to humans and animals and stifle vegetation growth beneath them and on their surface, as well as adding to erosion in this windswept and frequently frozen environment. We would encourage a review of the effectiveness and impacts of the current methodology, taking account of these aspects and looking at alternative approaches.

We also believe that the speed of the work is too fast to properly survey these remote sites and avoid damage, and we would welcome a more cautious approach to contract work. Currently even recorded sites on the Historic Environment Record are being ignored, such as newly identified features recorded during the course of fieldwork for an active PhD project by Alan Endacott on Whitehorse Hill. We cannot see a need to sacrifice so much or to proceed at such a pace.

Prehistoric activity on Dartmoor is not limited to specific sites but is abundant on a landscape scale. This palimpsest contains at least 6,000 years of known human activity. Recent restoration on Whitehorse Hill where mechanical digging took place adjacent to the prehistoric cist, and early 20th century Philpotts Pass with its plaque dated 1906, demonstrates to us that despite the millions spent on the peatland restoration, the cultural landscape is once again treated as the poor relation.

As in any group, there are differing views and emphases from individuals, but we are all united in our wish to safeguard the wildness and remoteness of Dartmoor, a place that for many still retains a sense of connection with our ancestors.

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Letter to BBC Points of View

Posted in Letters on Monday 15th March 2021 at 9:41pm

22nd February 2021

Dear BBC,

The past twelve months have seen unprecedented numbers of people visiting our wonderful National Parks but this, in turn, has created huge recreational pressures on vulnerable landscapes and communities.

While we welcome responsible visitors and the Parks have provided an essential lifeline for many living outside, there have been some well-publicised incidents of gridlocked roads, impromptu, rubbish-strewn, ‘wild’ camping sites and highly sensitive relict ancient woodlands being trampled and stripped of moss and fungi by selfish foragers.

BBC lifestyle programmes, such as Countryfile, offer everyone a beautifully produced and evocative taste of country living and pursuits. Such coverage rightly encourages people from all backgrounds to get out and enjoy the countryside. However, the producers also have a responsibility not to draw attention to extremely sensitive locations or to repeatedly promote potentially harmful activities like foraging.

Broadcasters do have an important part to play in educating the public to enjoy the countryside in a responsible and sustainable way and should always weigh up the benefits of any feature aimed at a mass audience against the possible harmful impact to individual locations, habitats and communities.

I attach photographs taken by Dartmoor photographer, Chris Chapman, showing the measures that have had to be taken to reduce the pressure on the precious SSSI site of Wistman’s Wood on central Dartmoor and the attendant traffic problems and damage caused by inconsiderate parking.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Endacott MA
Acting Chair, The Dartmoor Society

Traffic cones placed at Two Bridges, Princetown, Dartmoor in an attempt to control parking due to the increased visitor pressure on Wistman's Wood

Traffic cones placed at Two Bridges, Princetown, Dartmoor in an attempt to control parking due to the increased visitor pressure on Wistman's Wood

Traffic cones placed at Two Bridges, Princetown, Dartmoor in an attempt to control parking due to the increased visitor pressure on Wistman’s Wood.

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An Open Letter to the Peatland Partnership

Posted in Letters on Monday 15th March 2021 at 9:30pm

18th February, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

Recent events on Whitehorse Hill, Dartmoor, including the damming of the Higher Phillpotts Peat Pass, have raised a number of concerns and highlighted the vulnerability of this world-renowned cultural heritage. The creation of expansive, deep pools calls into question the effectiveness of this strategy as a means of restoring peatland on the moor.

Archaeology

The Hangingstone Project extends well onto Whitehorse Hill and the ‘Hangingstone’ Phase 2 project is concerned with Whitehorse and Black Hill rather than Hangingstone. This draws the public’s attention away from the fact that digging is occurring in an internationally-recognised cultural landscape. The whole hill is highly sensitive and not yet fully understood with many unrecorded features yet to be revealed, so every penetrating excavator bucket is potentially destroying archaeological remains. The policy should be one of minimum intervention and active archaeological research in the area and should be taken into account in any future plans. We feel that environmental priorities and the protection of our cultural heritage can both be achieved.

An example of how intrusive intervention could inadvertently damage such monuments is the recent building of the dam at the head of the Higher Phillpotts Peat Pass, creating a large pool of water that was in danger of lapping away at the foot of the peaty mound containing the Whitehorse Hill Cist. We don’t currently know if the mound contains any associated burials or other features. While there is some logic in efforts to raise the water table to protect such sites, these organic remains survived for over 3,500 years, in spite of being exposed above the surrounding water table for at least a century. Their survival at this level must have been due to the frequently mist and rain-soaked environment (neighbouring Black Hill had nearly 145 inches of rain in 2020: source Mike Sampson) and it is only since its disturbance and all the attendant publicity that the surrounding peat has rapidly eroded away – in a mere ten years. In our opinion, the creation of deep-water pools in the vicinity will do little to restore its peatland setting, or to protect it in the longer term in such an exposed location.

Safety

On Monday 8th February, a group of us visited Hangingstone Hill to see the latest works. We found crossing the hilltop quite treacherous on the frozen ground, buffeted by the strong wind while negotiating the narrow bunds between these newly created deep pools. The safety of solitary walkers (and livestock) is a serious concern. We understand that the bunds were deliberately designed with a profile to enable a person or animal to get out but these proved ineffective when Chris Chapman broke the ice and entered one of the pools in his waders with a ranging pole. This pool was over 1.5 metres deep not that far from the edge. This also raises questions of duty of care and liability with hazards having been deliberately created.

Assessment of the degree of erosion

We have long questioned the historical basis for the assessment that the blanket peat is being eroded to the extent it is claimed, or that the erosion gullies are a new phenomenon. While we respect the science underpinning this, we dispute the interpretation of the evidence used as the basis for the assessment, which is in part based on aerial photographs taken by the RAF in April 1947. This was the year of the severe blizzard and a long period of freezing temperatures, following which deep sheets of snow lay on the higher ground, especially in the gullies, well into the early summer. This shows clearly on the aerial photograph but could easily be mistaken for sheets of water or level ground surfaces when analysed by a computer. It also has the effect of distorting the apparent definition and depths of the gullies, thus having a significant impact on their interpretation. Other, satellite and LiDAR, imagery clearly shows the softening of the edges of old peat ties where the peat is regenerating and this process can be seen on the ground.

Methodology

We understand the logic of attempting to raise the water table in order to ‘re-wet’ the existing peat. It is harder to understand how the creation of large, deep, open pools on exposed hilltops will encourage new peat to form. Continuous surface disturbance will hamper any vegetation growth and hinder the formation of new peat. With the constant movement, the edges of the pools will erode and more methane could be released from the bare floor beneath, in addition to that released by the initial machine excavations. By contrast, adjacent to one particularly large artificial pool, complete with frozen waves on the surface was a similar area of naturally regenerating peat in a slight hollow, with profuse and varied vegetation growing on the surface.

There are legitimate concerns about the long-term effects of climate change on the health of peatlands due to drying and erosion but we believe that this is the wrong approach for this situation. The exposed uplands of Dartmoor experience some of the highest precipitation in southern England and so the use of a ‘one size fits all’ approach that may well work on drier, more sheltered environments are totally inappropriate for Dartmoor.

An alternative approach may be to find alternative proven methods of establishing peat regrowth. For instance, the establishment of ‘sphagnum nurseries’ in old peat ties on the Somerset Levels could enable commercial peat extraction companies to diversify in a more environmentally-friendly way by producing pre-seeded mats or organic gabions of sphagnum and other suitable plants. These could be sensitively-placed on upland areas like Dartmoor to form shallow pools in sheltered gullies, thereby encouraging natural regeneration and providing local employment/business opportunities here – all for significantly less cost to the taxpayer.

We believe that there should be an immediate pause in scheduled works in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the methodology and the attendant risks to public safety and hidden archaeology. We believe that the review should include a study of the natural regeneration of peat occurring in the vicinity. This will point to ways that we can work with nature to encourage this process. We would willingly collaborate and consider contributing to a study that considers alternatives, and we hope that the current method of creating deep pools will cease until a consensus is reached.

We would support a less invasive approach, drawing on experiences in other areas. We believe it is possible to meet the aims of all involved. Can we organise a joint symposium, with the aim of bringing together all interested parties to present new evidence and find a mutually agreed way forward?

Yours sincerely,

Alan Endacott MA
Acting Chairman, The Dartmoor Society

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Dartmoor: A Fair Deal for the Hills - a film by Chris Chapman and Kate King

Posted in Films on Tuesday 26th January 2021 at 8:41pm

In recognition of the efforts of many people to maintain a healthy balance of habitats and farming interests on the Dartmoor Commons, it seems a good time to remind ourselves of a film made by Chris Chapman and Kate King in 2008, Dartmoor: A Fair Deal for the Hills. This can be watched below, or on YouTube.

Chris Chapman is on our Executive Committee. Layland Branfield, who farms near Two Bridges, is one of the contributors and is another member of our Executive.

As part of the Dartmoor Society’s ongoing exploration and discussion about Dartmoor vegetation, the Spring 2021 newsletter includes a feature on the work undertaken on Throwleigh Common in 2020/21. A collaborative project involving conservation volunteers from Sticklepath and Okehampton StOC group, Andy Crabb DNPA Archaeologist and others.

For background information see the documents below, also available from our Achievements page.

Field day and report on Gidleigh Common 2018

Habitat survey commissioned on Gidleigh and part of Chagford Commons in 2016

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Report on Virtual Annual General Meeting held on 21st October 2020

Posted in Events on Wednesday 11th November 2020 at 9:59pm

Thank you to all members who returned their voting forms for the 2020 Virtual AGM. Apart from a couple of abstentions, respondents voted in favour of all the proposals, namely:

  1. To adopt the hon treasurer’s Report and Audited Accounts.
  2. To appoint our president, Peter Beacham OBE, for a further three-year term.
  3. To appoint Chris Chapman as an executive committee member for a three-year term.
  4. To appoint Simon Murray & Co as independent examiner of accounts.

There were no questions.

The acting chairman and executive committee of The Dartmoor Society thank members for their continuing support and look forward to the resumption of a normal calendar of events in 2021.

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Sheep shown the door on Dartmoor

Response to News Item in The Times, 18th September - Removal of Sheep from Okehampton Commons

Posted in Responses/Comments on Wednesday 14th October 2020 at 10:24pm

You may have seen recent press reports regarding Natural England requiring all sheep to be removed from Okehampton Commons over the winter. This, of course, would be breaking a two hundred-year-old tradition of year-round grazing and cause very real problems for the commoners concerned, potentially putting them out of business and leading to the complete loss of livestock. This in turn would have a devastating impact on the well-established ecology of a large tract of moorland and the delicate ecological balance and diversity of the SSSI, without the positive benefits of conservation grazers.

I immediately wrote to the Natural England Team Manager, Eamon Crowe, to raise our concerns and reiterate the Dartmoor Society’s position regarding the value of maintaining traditional management practices and the dangers of significant reductions of mixed grazing. I urged them to meet with the commoners as soon as possible to clarify the situation and negotiate sustainable levels of livestock, while listening to local knowledge and wisdom regarding the practical issues involved with animal husbandry that make it very difficult to meet the expectations of ecologists without constructive dialogue and compromise.

He wrote back and said “I accept all you say below and I can assure you that it not the intention of NE and I have had 26 years of experience on Dartmoor not to let this happen.” There has evidently been a misunderstanding between the two parties and I was told that they were “in the middle of negotiations”. 

We will continue to monitor the situation as the outcome may have ramifications for the rest of the Dartmoor Commons. Our policy is to encourage positive and constructive debate on the issues between parties, based on sound research and objective evidence. As well as academic studies, we feel strongly that such evidence should include anecdotal and photographic comparisons going back decades as well as previous vegetation surveys. 

As a consequence of the Gidleigh Common Day, organised by the Society in August 2018, a winter cattle grazing trial was instigated. We had hoped to be able to follow this up this summer to receive reports on its effectiveness and to witness the results on the ground but this has had to be put on hold until Covid restrictions allow, all being well, next summer. We were also looking forward to hearing Eamon Crowe speak from the Natural England perspective at our postponed AGM in April this year and, again, we hope to reschedule this in the New Year.   

With increasing concerns over climate change and accelerating loss of species, it is more important than ever that all parties understand each other’s perspectives and the practical issues and talk constructively rather than simply make public criticism. We will always endeavour to broker constructive, face-to-face negotiations, based on sound reason and common sense rather than risk stirring up hostility in such a way. 

Alan Endacott, Acting Chairman
The Dartmoor Society

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Virtual AGM 2020

Posted in Events on Monday 21st September 2020 at 10:27pm

We had hoped to be able to hold our postponed AGM in the autumn, possibly as an outdoor event. However, as the rules stand and with the threat of a second wave of the virus, this has not been possible. 

We need to have some form of General Meeting to elect the officers and members of the executive committee as well as to present annual reports and accounts, so the trustees have decided to circulate the reports that would normally be presented at the AGM and to hold a postal ballot for elections.

Please see our Virtual AGM page for more information.

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Revised Comments on the Draft Dartmoor National Park Management Plan 2020–2025

Posted in Responses/Comments on Monday 11th May 2020 at 10:05pm

The revised comments below were recently submitted to Dartmoor National Park by our Acting Chairman, Alan Endacott, as The Dartmoor Society’s official response to the Management Plan Review.

The Dartmoor Society broadly supports the vision underpinning the Management Plan and we feel that the overall balance of the Plan itself is fair and demonstrates a genuine willingness to consult with interested parties and to listen to their views. 

It should be stated at the outset that we agree on far more than we disagree on and that the following comments should, therefore, be seen in that context. Where no comment is made on a specific topic or proposal it should be assumed that we are broadly in agreement.

Climate Change

We congratulate the Authority on its own efforts to become carbon neutral by 2025. However, while Dartmoor itself has much to offer in mitigating the effects of climate change regionally, we see certain risks in Dartmoor being seen as the carbon sink for the rest of Devon, especially when it comes to investment from conscience-driven carbon offset schemes. Such activity (such as mass tree planting on peatlands or open moorland) needs to be carefully planned and controlled in order to derive the greatest benefits and to avoid unintended knock-on consequences rather than being largely driven by available funding.

We have similar reservations about some of the current ‘upstream thinking’ policies, including the damming of streams and peatland ‘restoration’. The Society still disputes the historical context of peat denudation on the uplands. We do accept that there are clearly potential carbon gains and other environmental benefits from the consolidation of blanket peat cover but only where it is clearly demonstrated that nature needs a helping hand. We remain opposed to the current overly invasive methodology. Instead, we would prefer to see a softer, more phased approach to the work, for instance, the manual placing of pre-seeded sphagnum in biodegradable nets to form dams and shallow pools to encourage the gradual establishment of sphagnum bog over a greater area, rather than the current use of excavators and intrusive dams that risk releasing more harmful methane than the carbon gains are worth and create deep pools, with the attendant physical and health risks to wildlife and livestock.

With regards to sustainable transport, although there is going to be an increasing demand for vehicle charging points and other infrastructure to accommodate low-carbon transport, it will prove almost impossible to cope with the sheer predicted numbers of electric vehicles in the future and we feel the Authority should take bold steps, along with public and private partners, to aim for a fully integrated public transport system to reduce the number of visitors arriving in cars as well as helping local communities to reduce their car usage. For instance, a network of affordable ‘Park and Ride’ facilities around the outskirts of the National Park, operating with low-carbon buses. Dartmoor could become an exemplar of what can be achieved.

When public infrastructure improvements are considered to provide low-carbon facilities, these should not be limited to vehicle charging points and other technologies, such as hydrogen, should be taken into account, especially around the periphery of the National Park. Flexibility should be built in to any project plans to take account of new or emerging technologies and the specific needs of Dartmoor communities, which will, of course, be quite different to more urban areas, should always be taken into account. 

We welcome the National Park’s commitment to reducing energy consumption through improved building efficiency and the use of small-scale renewable and low-carbon energy technologies and hope that the resources can be made available to back this up. Given that much of Dartmoor’s existing housing stock is of traditional construction and few rural settlements have access to mains gas, there is significant fuel poverty and insulation and heating bring particular challenges, especially with the current high costs of renewable technologies and planning restrictions on their introduction in a National Park. In recognition of this, it would be helpful if there were a specific scheme, administered by the National Park Authority, to draw on Government incentives and advice for home owners and landlords, to take account of the special circumstances of the National Park. 

Better for the Next Generation

While we welcome the aim of including young people in decision making, we feel that this is an issue that relates to all ages with respect to the lack of democratic representation of residents on the National Park Authority, in particular relating to planning issues. However, we acknowledge that this is beyond the scope of this Plan and recognise the willingness of the Authority to listen to the views of all stakeholders in order to shape their decisions.

We share the concerns regarding affordable housing, jobs and skills and would welcome any practical encouragement of traditional skills and knowledge being passed on as well as the other ideas put forward.

We regret the loss of County Council ‘starter farms’ within the National Park and the opportunities they provided for young farmers to get established. If it isn’t already, this kind of opportunity should be borne in mind in relation to Duchy tenancies, with a certain quota specifically for young farmers starting out. How this could be subsidised could be the subject of the new ELMS principles.

Part of the process of young people learning about what is special and how to help conserve and enhance it should be to encourage dialogue with the older generation in order to perpetuate the cycle of received wisdom and experience that is so often overlooked by decision makers who, thus, either re-invent the wheel or repeat the mistakes of the past.

We are a little uncomfortable about the idea of waymarked routes. This can be achieved in theory using GPS technology without the need for intrusive way-markers but, in any case, a big part of the Dartmoor experience is learning how to map read and to enjoy orienteering and using one’s other senses and these skills should be encouraged in younger people rather than risk being overly protective.

Better for Nature and the Natural Beauty

There is possibly a need to define what is meant by ‘natural beauty’ as much of what is popularly seen as the ‘wilderness’ of Dartmoor is, in fact, the product of human intervention over thousands of years. While we accept that there is an important place for nature reserves and a patchwork of different habitats with different degrees of management, if left totally to nature, much of Dartmoor would become inaccessible and it is important that this message gets across to the wider public. 

For instance, there is a tendency for people unfamiliar with Dartmoor’s history to misconstrue the meaning of the historical term ‘Forest of Dartmoor’ and demand that trees should be re-planted on the uplands in order to ‘re-wild’ it. Apart from the fact that broadleaved trees would be unlikely to grow in the prevailing soils and conditions, they would be nowhere near as efficient at carbon sequestration as peat. 

Presumably the proposed landscape-scale ‘nature recovery areas’ will involve the exclusion of people and livestock? We are not necessarily against the principle where there is a clear and demonstratable need but we would be interested to see any specific proposals in due course.

There is also a strong case to be made for bracken and gorse clearance/control and a return to pre Foot and Mouth stocking levels and allowing and encouraging appropriate overwintering of cattle once more in order to reverse the current overdominance of bracken, gorse and Molinia in many areas and to restore the previous biodiversity through better management of the commons by livestock. Bracken is especially problematic in connection with the spread of Lyme disease but also hides (and may even damage) archaeological remains for much of the year, is poisonous to livestock and carcinogenic.

We are supportive of the coordinated approach of the Dartmoor Fires Partnership to tackle the increasing risk of wildfires. However, prevention is clearly the best policy and we would like to see a similar approach to controlled swaling of the commons, providing individual commoners associations are fully involved and in agreement. We believe that, as well as a more strategic approach being applied in order to control vegetation and reduce the risk of wild fires in the first place, a more flexible approach is needed within the overall agreed framework, for instance, where the weather prevents planned burns or an outbreak of heather beetle is noted. 

Better for Cultural Heritage

We applaud the emphasis placed on Dartmoor’s cultural heritage and, in particular, the desire to see that the significance of Premier Archaeological Landscapes (PALs) is recognised by other agencies and given a degree of statutory standing. We would like this to have a similar weighting to SSSIs and other conservation designations. However, we note the reference to potential conflicting priorities and the need for a process for assessing strategic environment priorities to guide decision making in relation to other conservation objectives. We trust that extreme caution will be exercised when setting priorities and precedents and that there will be appropriate consultation with all interested parties.

We welcome the principle of a rolling survey of listed buildings and quinquennial buildings at risk survey and hope that sufficient resources are made available or sought to assist the process and to help with any remedial conservation work required, in partnership with owners and other agencies.

Dartmoor’s international importance to prehistoric archaeology deserves a corresponding level of resource. The encouragement of pro-active research into the Moor’s cultural heritage is very welcome, as is the ongoing work with local communities and volunteers. 

As this Plan is about vision, ultimately we would like to see it go further and recognise the ecocultural value of all of the open Moor by abandoning distinctions between what is considered to be of particular ecological or cultural merit and the often arbitrary boundaries of SSSIs, PALs and other statutory designations, in favour of a single ecocultural designation in full recognition of the equal and symbiotic value of both. We would hope that this would ensure a more even distribution of resources and management to a consistent high quality. 

Better for Farming and Forestry

We are broadly happy with the general principles and aims set out in the Management Plan – subject to the previous comments regarding winter grazing for cattle and the need to redress the balance due to under-grazing, the lack of timely swaling on many commons over recent years and the consequent over-dominance of various species (including bracken, gorse and Molinia). The rise of Molinia in particular has knock-on consequences for the environment as the dense thatch effect produced when it dies down in the winter increases run-off and reduces the ability of the soil beneath to absorb carbon.

As well as recognising the conservation benefits of sustainable farming, we also feel that due consideration should always be given to the importance of home food production over importation, with its additional food miles and ethical considerations, such as forest clearance, the local impact of cash-crop production in the developing world and often poorer animal welfare standards. Taking good farmland out of efficient production here will inevitably have a knock-on effect on other parts of the world and this aspect should always be part of the carbon offset equation. There is little point in planting thousands of trees on good pasture land for instance if a similar area of rainforest is being cleared in South America in order to produce beef for export to the UK on a carbon-fuelled freighter!   

The bottom-up approach to the Farming Futures and Dartmoor Hill Farm Projects is an exemplar of what can be achieved in partnership and it would be good to see this extended to the whole of the National Park, or the commons at least.

The detailed delivery of these aims and policies will, no doubt, be the subject of much discussion between farmers and the various agencies involved over the life of the Plan and as the post-Brexit situation becomes clearer. The Dartmoor Society will be pleased to take part in such discussions where appropriate and helpful. We have a Hill Farming Sub-committee, looking in more detail at issues affecting farming in the National Park and the Society’s position on such matters.

It may be of interest to note that the Society already organise regular farm and woodland visits and that these are reported on our website and in the members’ thrice-yearly Newsletter.  

Better for People

With regard to visitor pressure on the roads, see comments above regarding a sustainable transport network.

We feel that there is a conflict between the promotion of Dartmoor as a physical activity playground and a suitable place for potentially destructive pastimes, such as foraging, and the long-term well-being of the environment and local communities. While we respect the rights of individuals to legally indulge in such pastimes, we don’t think they should be widely promoted in the media (e.g. BBC Countryfile) and marketing campaigns and should not be actively promoted by the National Park Authority.

Equally, the emphasis should be on managing, encouraging and educating those who wish to visit the National Park of their own volition rather than campaigns to increase overall visitor numbers. There are some excellent examples of sustainable tourism models within the National Park and these should continue to be encouraged, as should initiatives to help underprivileged groups (such as CHICKS or the Jubilee Challenge) to enjoy and feel inspired by the experience.    

We are concerned about the increasing number of large-scale events being staged in the National Park, the damage they can cause and the impact on local communities and farmers. We feel that there are insufficient controls and opportunities for those communities and farmers affected to have their say. 

Better for Communities and Business

Recent years have seen increasing numbers of closures of banks and Post Offices, not only in rural areas but in the larger towns that service Dartmoor communities. This is causing significant hardships to individuals and communities as well as to the surviving Sub-Postmasters who are having to take on more work, including outreach services to villages that have already lost their Post Offices, for little extra money. It also means that, with a lack of public transport, people are being forced to drive (or be driven) significant distances to transact their affairs and this also leads to an increasing sense of isolation for those who can't travel. 

Poor reception for mobile phones and slow internet connections for those who can use online facilities (and there are still many, particularly elderly residents, who can’t) exacerbates the problem. There needs to be a Dartmoor-wide strategy to protect such vital community services.

Unfortunately, part of the problem is that the viability of many service and retail businesses within the National Park is affected by the increasing tendency for new residents to commute and have little to do with the local community. This is in part a cultural issue as many choose not to mix or get involved, not having experienced village life before. Obviously, this is a personal choice but needs to be taken into account in the consideration of support for businesses and community initiatives and ways of changing perceptions.

Key Challenges

The examples given in the introduction are a little provocative – presumably deliberately so. However, the semantics are dangerous and run the risk of undoing all the goodwill engendered through the consultation process and undermining any subsequent consensus. It could be interpreted as a power of veto and that, regardless of whatever anybody else says, at the end of the day ‘Nanny knows best’.

Of course, as with all plans, the devil will be in the detail and any general statements may give the wrong impression but they appear to pre-suppose that environmental ‘improvement’ will always take priority over all other aspects of the landscape and so a cultural landscape that may be thousands of years old and is ‘considered to be of international significance’ is seen as less important than whatever the current fashion of environmental management or ‘enhancement’ is. This could be seen as rather an arrogant proposition and the justification open to dispute.

The term ‘nature recovery’ itself is actually a culturally loaded term as it presupposes that the flora and fauna of an inherited, culturally managed landscape isn’t ‘natural’ and, by imposing the exclusion of large mammals (including humans), we are making a cultural choice rather than leaving it to nature. Having said that, we aren’t necessarily against the idea and the unaided re-generation of valley-side woodland is clearly particularly effective. We simply want to see that in individual cases, all angles and views are taken into account with open minds.  

Having said all of that, the succeeding assessment of the challenges and issues is fair and balanced overall and we would respectfully suggest that the introduction is revised to reflect the overall consensus rather than concentrate on potential conflicts.

Indicators

Additional indicators could include:

  • Percentage of total housing stock not permanently occupied
  • Percentage of households greater than a mile from the nearest Post Office or shop
  • Public spend per ancient monument/listed building (including staff resources) 
  • Climate change indicators such as earliest ground nesting dates (and other observational data), temperature and rainfall data etc
  • Satisfaction survey data
  • Farm incomes/profitability comparisons pertaining to different agri-environment schemes and farm support areas within the Park in order to assess effectiveness alongside the respective environmental outcomes
  • Support for carbon reduction measures per household
  • Number of large-scale events and average number of participants, set against previous years

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AGM postponed

Posted in Events on Friday 20th March 2020 at 11:19am

Given current advice regarding the ongoing coronavirus situation, the Executive Committee have decided that the forthcoming AGM and talk by Eamon Crowe, due to be held in Chagford on 18th April, should be postponed. We will endeavour to rearrange the event for a later date, should the situation improve in the summer.

I am sorry that we have had to postpone this important annual event in our calendar, especially as we were all looking forward to hearing from Eamon Crowe, as well as presenting this year’s Dartmoor Society Award to our very own Dr Tom Greeves. But we trust you will understand why it has been necessary given the current situation.

As an Executive Committee, we are currently investigating other means of conducting AGM business to permit the continued smooth running of the Society, should it prove impossible to re-schedule the meeting this summer. We will, of course, let you know the details in due course.

If you have already booked for another future event, you will be advised by email, letter or telephone nearer the date if there are any changes.

Please also keep an eye on this website for updates on any other planned events before booking.

Alan Endacott MA
Acting Chairman, The Dartmoor Society

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Higher Shilstone Talk

Higher Shilstone Talk

Higher Shilstone - Memories of a Medieval Farmstead on Dartmoor

Posted in Events on Tuesday 25th February 2020 at 11:11pm

On the afternoon of Saturday 15th February, 55 attendees struggled through some very difficult weather conditions created by storm “Dennis” to Manaton Parish Hall to hear Chris Chapman’s excellent talk on “Higher Shilstone”, which was a film screening on the potential selling of this architecturally important Medieval Farmstead.

With the film itself, Chris does a superb job of engaging the audience from the very start, where in 1974 its newly found owner Rita Webber, who had been living in Throwleigh, suddenly finds herself the owner of Shilstone Farm after her parents have died.

Chris, who was living locally himself at the time, recalls seeing Rita moving all her belongings on a day in August using a tractor and trailer from her Council house in the village up to the Farm.

Due to her financial situation, Rita is forced to sell the Farm, and the story develops from there. This is a truly fascinating film and Chris handles the story with great sensitivity.

After the film, we all tucked into delicious light refreshments provided by the Executive Committee and then Chris presented some of his extensive Throwleigh archive of old photographs and gave us an illustrated talk showing many images of rare and landmark situations, and occasions, and of the local people who lived in the Throwleigh area in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Despite the travel conditions everyone agreed that it had been a wonderful afternoon where we all felt that we had been totally transported back in time and had been given a rare insight into traditional Dartmoor life.

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Dartmoor Society Research Lecture 2019

Dartmoor Society Research Lecture 2019

Dartmoor Society Research Lecture 2019

Posted in Events on Wednesday 18th December 2019 at 10:32pm

It was a record breaker when 100 people congregated in the upstairs function room of the Dolphin Hotel Bovey Tracey on the 15th November to hear the findings of Dr Paul Lunt Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Plymouth University and Dru Butterfield from the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT).

The research has taken place on the land leased from Forestry England by the DPHT in the areas of Bellever Tor and Laughter Tor near Postbridge.

Dru gave her introduction and explained about the history of the Trust and she highlighted the fact that the findings had been a major team effort.

Paul Lunt then presented his findings based on a study that involves strategically positioned salt blocks being used to attract ponies to targeted areas of Molinia dominated moorland where other management strategies are not sustainable.

The Dartmoor Society is proud to announce that a Natural England ecologist has said “The results of this trial provide good evidence of the positive impact of pony grazing on Molinia”.

The study has now been shared with Defra and it will form part of the body of evidence that will help to shape the future Environmental Land Management System (ELMS).

The event was topped off by an excellent buffet produced by Robert and his team at the Dolphin Hotel.

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Dartmoor Society Debate 2019

Dartmoor Society Debate 2019

Dartmoor Society Debate 2019

Posted in Events on Monday 28th October 2019 at 11:03pm

Eight excellent speakers which included scientists, conservationists and wildlife experts, as well as 150 attendees, created the ingredients for our excellent annual all-day Dartmoor Society Debate at Ashburton Arts Centre on Saturday 12th October.

The main objective of the day was to highlight the plight of endangered species of birds on Dartmoor. Sadly, breeds such as Curlew, Lapwing and Ring Ouzel are all on the brink of being lost altogether.

On balance, thankfully by encouraging a more widespread suitable environment, numbers of some breeds such as Snipe, Dunlin and Grasshopper Warblers were identified as gradually increasing.

Our Chair was Ali Kohler who is Director of Conservation and Communities at the DNPA and she did a sterling job of keeping all the speakers within their time frames as well as introducing both public question and answer sessions.

Everyone agreed it had been a fabulous day, packed full of information and one that had encouraged much dialogue and many thought provoking ideas as well as creating a perfect social occasion during lunchtime and breaks.

Edit December 2020: A more detailed summary of the day is available on our Debates & Lectures page along with a link to purchase a copy of the Devon Bird Report April 2020 containing the full papers.

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