An independent voice and a forum for debate for those who find Dartmoor a source of livelihood or inspiration

General Articles

Princetown Train at Burrator about 1900 © T Greeves collection

Princetown Train at Burrator about 1900 © T Greeves collection

Update on the Audit of Archaeological Features and Structures Relating to Railways and Tramways on Dartmoor

Posted in General on Thursday 31st March 2016 at 11:21pm

Dartmoor has a 200-year-old legacy of horse-drawn tramways for mines, quarries and military targets, as well as a legacy of several steam railways from the mid-19th century onwards.

At a public debate held by the Dartmoor Society in October 2014, participants keenly supported a suggestion that an ‘audit’ might be undertaken to improve the database of known archaeological features and structures relating to railways and tramways on Dartmoor.

With matching funding from Dartmoor National Park Authority, and additional support from Devon County Council, fieldwork by Project Officer Colin Wakeham was undertaken in the autumn and winter.

Colin has now completed a comprehensive report. More than 700 features have been identified, recorded and photographed relating to the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway; The Princetown Branch; The Zeal Tor Tramway; and The Redlake Railway.

We hope this successful project will be a model for future work on other Dartmoor railways.

Copies of the report are being distributed on disk, with hard copies retained by the Dartmoor Society and Dartmoor National Park Authority.

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PCWW Boundary Stone Before Works

PCWW Boundary Stone After Works

New Work on Conservation of PCWW Boundstones, Cramber Tor Training Area

Posted in General on Tuesday 27th October 2015 at 12:08am

Further to our initial conservation work in 2014 on eight of the PCWW (Plymouth Corporation Waterworks) boundstones, we have now had another very successful day on which seven more stones were conserved, with thanks again to the very generous support of Graham Colton.

For the original write-up on this initiative please see this news article.

On 16 October 2015 six Dartmoor Society volunteers (Tom and Elisabeth Greeves, Tanya and Barry Welch who brought along some of their tools, Barrie Quilliam, and Simon Booty who also supplied tools as well as the use of his Land Rover and Dumper truck), all met at the start of the track to Nuns Cross Farm.

Graham Colton’s driver Mark Cole also attended with a tractor and trailer, and his help was truly invaluable. Warm thanks must also go to Justine and David Colton who very kindly provided use of another tractor and front loader. Weather conditions were perfect and the ground was uncharacteristically dry.

We all headed past Nuns Cross Farm to the south-western slope of Eylesbarrow, to work on two of the remotest PCWW boundstones. We then moved to the Forest of Dartmoor boundary between Eylesbarrow and Nuns Cross and were able to conserve another four PCWW stones as well as an unmarked Forest of Dartmoor boundary stone.

Two of the stones were recumbent and took extra effort to re-erect. All the stones had hollows around their bases which required filling with soil, and some had rushes growing against them, which needed trimming.

The Dartmoor Society is most grateful to have received from the Maristow Estate a letter dated 15 October 2015 and a generous donation in the form of a cheque for £500 ‘In recognition of the conservation work your organisation carries out on the Commons of Dartmoor’, in the hope that it ‘will help towards future projects’.

A further day of work is being planned for 2016.

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Filling hollows around one of the PCWW boundstones

PCWW Boundstones on Cramber Tor Training Area

Posted in General on Sunday 15th February 2015 at 11:36pm

In November 2012 the Dartmoor Society initiated a project with South West Water, Maristow Estate, the Duchy of Cornwall and commoners to ensure that all PCWW boundstones between South Hessary Tor and the Scout Hut at Drizzlecombe (which follows the Cramber Tor Training Area boundary), are in good condition by 2017 (the centenary of their erection). The project stems from a condition survey, for the Ministry of Defence, of archaeological features within the Cramber Tor Training Area, which was completed in February 2012. 27 stones (6 of them not marked PCWW) were identified as being in need of attention (ranging from cutting rushes round the base to re-erection).

Following photographic survey and site visits, the first practical work was undertaken on 2 October 2014 with vehicles (tractor, trailer and Matbro) provided by grazier Graham Colton. With driver Mark Cole and a group of volunteers from the Dartmoor Society (Simon Booty who also supplied a Land Rover and tools, Tom & Elisabeth Greeves, Barry & Tanya Welch), the process of filling hollows around eight PCWW stones (and uprighting one of them which had a very slight lean) was begun, starting near the Scout Hut. We expect to do some more work here in 2015 and then move on to the stones in the Eylesbarrow – Nuns Cross – South Hessary Tor area.

Note: PCWW stands for ‘Plymouth Corporation Water Works’ and most of the stones being tackled have the inscription PCWW 1917 on them. They mark the watershed of Burrator reservoir.

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Notification of Dues Increases

Posted in General on Sunday 19th May 2013 at 10:53pm

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.

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Dr Andrew Fleming

Dartmoor Society Award 2013

Dartmoor Society Award 2013

Posted in General on Sunday 19th May 2013 at 10:51pm

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.’

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Burrator Iron Store

Update on Burrator Iron Store

Posted in General on Monday 25th June 2012 at 11:04pm

Members will be pleased to know that, at long last, planning permission has been given by DNPA to South West Lakes Trust to repair and modify the Iron Store close to Burrator Lodge (application 0653/11), in order to make it available for school and other groups.

The Iron Store was constructed in 1901 and was used as the works base for management of the reservoir for nearly 100 years. It was South West Water’s and DNPA’s proposed destruction of this historic building and the development of its site as a car park, with associated commercialisation of Burrator Lodge, which was one of the key factors leading to the creation of the Dartmoor Society in 1998.

In late 1998 DNPA declared the building to be of no interest ‘locally or nationally’. A member of Dartmoor National Park Authority even suggested it should be blown up with Semtex! A photograph of the Store appeared on the cover of Newsletter No.4 (February 1999), and it featured in an item in The Times newspaper of 9 December 1998. It was also discussed in an article in Dartmoor Magazine 54, Spring 1999, 20–21.

So we’ve come a long way since then, and our consistent approach would appear to have been vindicated.

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Dartmoor Society Award 2012

Dartmoor Society Award 2012

Dartmoor Society Award 2012

Posted in General on Sunday 29th April 2012 at 12:20pm

The Dartmoor Society 2012 Award was presented by Chairman Dr Tom Greeves to Michael and Swana Hardy at the Society’s 14th Annual General Meeting, held at Leusdon, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, on 14 April.

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.

The Hardy’s plate is inscribed ‘The Dartmoor Society Award 2012 – for Michael and Swana Hardy for safeguarding Gidleigh Castle.’

At the presentation, Dr Greeves said, ‘Gidleigh Castle is an example of one of those historic gems which a traveller comes across unexpectedly in quiet corners of Britain. It is resonant with a long history stretching back to the Norman period and linking across northern Europe and Russia. Many generations have maintained the structure of the castle to a greater or lesser extent, but Michael and Swana Hardy, owners of the castle since 1983, have devoted much energy, emotion and resources to conserving and restoring the remaining fabric. A visit by the Dartmoor Society in November 2009 enabled members to marvel at what had been done. The castle, in its partially ruined state, is now secure for the foreseeable future, thanks to Michael and Swana Hardy. The Society feels that ‘safeguarding’ is the most appropriate word to describe what they have achieved, as it has a ‘medieval’ ring to it. It gives me enormous pleasure to present this Award on behalf of the Society’.

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Bill Murray receiving the 2011 Dartmoor Society Award

The Dartmoor Society Award 2011

Posted in General on Thursday 21st April 2011 at 11:18pm

Presented to Bill Murray ‘for nurturing the craft of Dartmoor song’

The Dartmoor Society Award 2011 was presented by Chairman Dr Tom Greeves at the Society’s 13th Annual General Meeting held at Scoriton on 16th April.

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.

Bill Murray’s plate is inscribed ‘The Dartmoor Society Award 2011 – for Bill Murray for nurturing the craft of Dartmoor song’.

At the presentation, Dr Tom Greeves said that for more than forty years Bill Murray had kept alive the tradition of unaccompanied singing in the Dartmoor region. He had worked closely with the late Bob Cann, and had sought out people with knowledge of songs in Dartmoor communities, and had been closely involved with every one of the thirty-six Dartmoor Folk Festivals based in South Zeal. He had also undertaken historical research and had composed  music for some songs which had none surviving. In 2008 he produced (with Wren Music) a CD of songs and music titled ‘Down ’pon Old Dartymoor’.

Tom Greeves said, ‘Bill Murray is a consummate performer of often long and complex songs, rooted in the Dartmoor tradition. He has an unassuming manner which belies the humour of much of what he shares with his audiences. His contribution to the story of Dartmoor singing is immeasurable, and his Award is richly deserved.

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Member Centre now live

Posted in General on Friday 14th May 2010 at 10:31am

We are pleased to announce that the Member Centre on our website is live. Members can now sign in securely to update their contact details and book events online.

For security we have given each member an automatically generated password not known to anyone. The first time you use the Member Centre simply enter your email address and click the Email Password button to receive your initial password. It can be changed to something more memorable after you have signed in.

To get started go to the sign-in page and follow the instructions.

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Charlotte Faulkner, winner of the Dartmoor Society Award 2010 (photo copyright Chris Chapman)

The Dartmoor Society Award 2010

Posted in General on Friday 7th May 2010 at 12:12am

The 13th Dartmoor Society Award was presented by Chairman Dr Tom Greeves at the Society’s Annual General Meeting held at Manaton on 17th April. The Award is made annually to individuals or groups who, in the opinion of the Society, have made a special contribution to Dartmoor.

The Award is in the form of a ceramic plate uniquely crafted by potter Penny Simpson of Moretonhampstead and calligrapher Susanne Haines of Bovey Tracey. Charlotte Faulkner’s plate is inscribed with the words ‘The Dartmoor Society Award 2010 – for Charlotte Faulkner for her devotion to the cause of hill ponies’.

Charlotte has for more than ten years spearheaded a campaign to give the traditional hill ponies of Dartmoor the recognition they deserve for their importance to the grazing management of the moor, and their wonderful qualities as riding pets, so that they obtain fair prices at the annual pony sales. She established the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, and the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony, from her Dartmoor farm base. She and her ponies are well-known at Devon County Show, and each year she also organises the fundraising 50-mile Dartmoor Challenge.

Dr Tom Greeves said, ‘Charlotte’s enthusiasm and passion for the hill ponies of Dartmoor is inspirational, and her work on their behalf, which has successfully raised their profile nationally and beyond, is hugely admired by all who have an interest in the future of Dartmoor’s most iconic, well-tempered, and ecologically best adapted beasts.  It gives me enormous pleasure to present this Award on behalf of the Dartmoor Society and indeed the wider Dartmoor community.’

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Using the Member Centre

Posted in General on Wednesday 3rd March 2010 at 2:17pm

Soon you will be able to sign in to this website to book events and update your details. However, to do this you need to register your e-mail address with us.

Simply email your name, address and email address to webmaster@dartmoorsociety.com or post a note to the PO Box address on the Contact Us page.

Once the system is up and running you will be sent your sign-in information.

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Website changes underway - email addresses required

Posted in General on Thursday 8th October 2009 at 5:50pm

Website changes coming soon will allow members to update their own address details and book for events online.  The new system will need members’ up-to-date email addresses in order to create a unique account for each member.

If you want to use this system and you have not already notified us of your email address, please do so via email or the PO Box, quoting your full name and address, as well as the email address you want to use to sign in to this website.

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English Heritage decision on New Bridge

Posted in General on Tuesday 26th May 2009 at 10:57pm

Members with long memories will recall that, following a detailed suggestion by committee member and farmer Miles Fursdon, in 2005 the Society initiated meetings with county council engineers, DNPA archaeologist, and the parish councils of Holne and Widecombe-in-the-Moor to make very small adjustments to the parapet of medieval New Bridge (listed Grade II*) which crosses the R. Dart, in order to reduce the damage done by collisions, and to avoid costs and the resulting considerable inconvenience to local people when the bridge was closed for repairs. Newsletter 24 (October 2005) pp.3–6 gives a full report. All parties seemed interested and supportive of the proposals. Since 2005, despite reminders from the Society, there has been very little activity on behalf of the county council, but in 2008 they seemed keen to move things forward and carry out the necessary work.

We have now received a letter dated 8 January 2009 from the Dept of Environment, Economy & Culture, Devon County Council, to let us know that English Heritage do not support alterations to the bridge.

The English Heritage view is that “...we should adapt to the bridge, not the other way about. The Moor is special and all agree that it imposes constraints...what you propose, though ingenious, has no guarantee of being a long-term solution. Importantly, it is our view that what is proposed would damage the design and affect the character of the grade II* bridge, besides being the continuation of ‘death by a thousand cuts’. There is no need for such damaging change; however slight, it is incremental. Earlier widening should not be seen as a reason for continued widening. This is a traditional, well-built, much-loved bridge in a particularly picturesque setting; a renowned beauty spot on the Moor...We appreciate that you have given the matter considerable thought and attention and recommend that this is extended to an objective appraisal of non-destructive options, including better signage and fore-warning of the restrictions; tightening of the restrictions and physical restrictions...”.

This is a very disappointing and somewhat patronising response, and much of what English Heritage states is open to question. The county council says it will now look at improved signing as the only option. A formal response by The Dartmoor Society will be considered.

Tom Greeves

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Rewetting of the blanket peat of Dartmoor

Posted in General on Tuesday 26th May 2009 at 10:56pm

Those who attended our Debate on What Future for Dartmoor’s Water Resources? last September will recall that Simon Bates of Natural England mentioned a ‘pilot’ project on the Rattlebrook (an ‘instant success’) at SX 561870 for rewetting the blanket bog by building timber dams in old peat-cutting channels.

This met with some scepticism, especially from your Chairman (see p.33 of Newsletter 33, October 2008).

Since then, Natural England, Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Duchy of Cornwall have pressed ahead with a much bigger scheme on the newly named ‘Blackabrook Down’, a substantial hill N of Black Dunghill, between the rivers Walkham and Cowsic, at SX 583782.

Dams on Blackabrook Down, Jan 09
Dams on Blackabrook Down, Jan 09

Here some 200 timber and turf dams have been set in old peat-cutting drainage channels and another 400 dams are proposed. An equivalent scale of operation is planned for Flat Tor Pan (between the West and East Dart rivers) at SX 612811, and on Winney’s Down (SX 625820), with a smaller area on Hangingstone Hill (SX 617857). Astonishingly, the Blackabrook work has been done without any consultation with commoners who are charged to manage the grazing under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985. Hill farmers have questioned the legality of the work, as they see their ‘lears’ (traditional grazing areas) have been disrupted, as well as access routes for stock. They are also concerned that calves and sheep might fall into the new ponds. Walking will undoubtedly become more difficult too. Tracks are being created by the machinery being used.

Initially trumpeted as ‘carbon storage’, the latest message from DNPA is that the project is all about ‘biodiversity’ with the aim to

  • Enhance condition of the blanket bog community
  • Reduce run-off rates in high rainfall periods
  • Retain flows in low rainfall periods
  • Improve habitat conditions for Atlantic salmon
  • Enhance breeding habitat suitability for wading birds
  • Enhance the capacity of the bog to store carbon

The words used and the aims sound plausible but The Dartmoor Society has every reason to be concerned about this work – in the 1990s the same bodies assured us that Dartmoor was overgrazed and needed a 50% reduction in grazing animals. The result has been a vigorous growth in vegetation (especially gorse and coarse grass) which is causing very serious problems for hill farmers, walkers and those who wish to study and explore archaeological features.

The present claim by Natural England that the blanket bog (12,000 ha) of Dartmoor needs ‘restoration’ is hardly proven – criteria borrowed from northern English moors have little relevance to Dartmoor where plant species and conditions are different. Natural England also seems remarkably antagonistic towards traditional swaling (burning of moorland vegetation.

A likely prehistoric barrow cemetery on Blackabrook Down does not seem to have been recognised and the old peat workings, which are archaeological features in their own right, are being compromised by the dams. There is no significant erosion of peat here or elsewhere on Dartmoor (except where turves have been dug to make dams!). The project seems more driven by the availability of funds (several hundred thousand pounds of public money to be spent within a short timescale), and fashionable vocabulary, rather than any rigorous analysis of the situation.

However, some good things are riding on the back of the project – Dr Ralph Fyfe of the University of Plymouth (who gave our Research Lecture in 2007) is doing some very important work measuring the depth of peat and dating its formation, but no preliminary work seems to have been done on the way in which peat retains water. A handful of ‘dipwells’ are being introduced to monitor changes in the water table.

Perhaps most disconcerting is that the external experts seem to have little understanding of the historic management of Dartmoor nor, more specifically, understanding of the ancient peat industry of the moor, and yet they are hell-bent on interference.

The project seems to have gone well beyond a ‘pilot’ phase without rigorous debate, despite the project brief stating that “Restoration will be planned and undertaken with full consultation of all relevant organisations and individuals”. The project unfortunately reflects the inappropriate dominance of Natural England without a properly balanced approach, which should take into account the long cultural history of Dartmoor.

Hill farmers are facing enormous difficulties thanks to the flawed decisions of the 1990s. This project will do nothing to reassure them, though no doubt they will be offered money as compensation which, attractive to some, is insulting and demeaning to others, and will still not resolve grazing issues.

Tom Greeves

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The Military Loop Road, Okehampton

Posted in General on Tuesday 26th May 2009 at 10:55pm

Since the mid-1950s there has been ‘permissive’ access for vehicles along some 5km of tarmac road which comprises the military Loop Road, or Ring Road as it is sometimes known. The southernmost point of the road is at Observation Post 15 OP15 which is only 2km from Cranmere Pool. Since the 1980s a policy of ‘benign neglect’ has been applied to the road, resulting in repairs only necessary for the military to continue use of the road for training purposes.

The road is now in places in a very poor condition, and potentially dangerous for private cars.

The Duchy of Cornwall, the landowners, have now proposed that most of the road should be closed to civilian vehicles. Civilian access on tarmac would be allowed only as far as OP22 (Harter Tor) where there would be a barrier and turning area. Car parks at SX 596923, 600920 and 598921 would be improved. The Moor Brook road that leads to a point (SX 591913) between West Mill Tor and Rowtor would be maintained with permissive access for civilian vehicles.

DNPA considered these proposals on 9 January and decided to support the Duchy of Cornwall in principle, with details concerning car parks etc to be decided.

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of The Dartmoor Society on 30 January all members present felt that the Duchy proposal should be supported in principle as it would bring environmental benefits in the widest sense to this part of wild Dartmoor. However, it is recognised that this view is not shared by all our members.

Tom Greeves

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Widecombe-in-the-Moor Tetra Mast

Posted in General on Tuesday 26th May 2009 at 10:55pm

In September 2007 The Dartmoor Society wrote to Dartmoor National Park Authority to object to a proposal (Application 0452/07) by Airwave O2 to place a telecommunications (Tetra) mast beside the Church Way on the east flank of Hameldown above Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Widecombe parish council objected strongly to the plan.

Our objection focused on the historical significance of the Church Way which was the route by which the inhabitants of the ancient tenements of central Dartmoor travelled to and from Widecombe church. Although technically in the parish of Lydford, they petitioned the Bishop of Exeter in AD 1260 and were given a dispensation to attend Widecombe church instead (for all services including baptism, marriage and burial). So we can be confident that the route was well used at least since the mid-13th century.

A member of the DNPA drew particular attention to our evidence and this influenced the decision of the DNPA to refuse the application which it was deemed “would have an adverse visual impact on the character, appearance and cultural heritage of this part of Dartmoor National Park”.

Airwave appealed against refusal and in 2008 a public inquiry was held. At very short notice the appellants sent in 135 pages of new submissions. At this point, much to everyone’s surprise, DNPA, instead of requesting an adjournment, said they were withdrawing from the inquiry. The Inspector decided that an adjournment was appropriate and the second phase of the inquiry was held in January 2009. At the reopened inquiry the Inspector was ‘perplexed’ when DNPA announced that, after all, they were supporting their evidence. However, in the event, DNPA withdrew, leaving only members of the public to fight the cause.

On 12 January 2009 DS Chairman Tom Greeves wrote a supplementary letter, reinforcing the importance of the historic route, arguing that its status was comparable to the Lich Way or the Maltern Way, and giving examples of people from the Postbridge area who used the route for access to Widecombe church until at least the late 1920s. He argued that the “emplacement of any modern intrusion beside it, for which there is no overriding need, should be strongly resisted.”

We await the Inspector’s decision and report in due course.

(with thanks to Rod Newbolt-Young, Chairman of Widecombe-in-the-Moor Parish Council for providing background information)

Tom Greeves

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DEFRA consultation on direct elections to National Parks

Posted in General on Tuesday 26th May 2009 at 10:54pm

In July 2008 DEFRA (Dept for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) issued a consultation paper on Direct Elections to National Parks. In his response, Tom Greeves, Chairman of The Dartmoor Society, wrote:

“Since our inception we have expressed concern about the ‘democratic deficit’ of Dartmoor National Park Authority, and are aware of widespread dissatisfaction with the current system [see, for example, Appendix A p.25 in Rural South Devon and Dartmoor Unitary Authority – Putting Our Rural Communities First (South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council, 11 April 2008)].

We believe it is unacceptable in 2009 that the eligible electorate of 33,500 residents of Dartmoor National Park are not able to go to a polling booth and vote for a candidate who is putting himself or herself forward to represent them on the National Park Authority. We consider this a ‘black hole’ in the English system of democracy and quite intolerable, given the importance to the local community of the decisions (especially regarding development control) made by the national park authority.

We therefore strongly support the principle of direct elections to national park authorities. We believe that all members, other than Secretary of State appointees, should be directly elected. These elections should include the present parish council members.

We feel that the national park authority should remain at approximately its present size, but would not object to a small increase in numbers of members.

We feel that direct elections would give a legitimacy to, and ‘ownership’ of, the decision-making process which is not felt by the wider community at the moment.

We do not feel that the status of the Secretary of State appointees would be compromised by direct elections of other members.”

Tom Greeves

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