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

News From May 2022

Thank you to former Committee members

Posted in Committee on Thursday 19th May 2022 at 9:44pm

Thank you to retiring Committee member Wilf Hodges, and to Liz Miall and Chris Chapman who, whilst no longer on the Committee, continue to advise and work on our behalf.

Wilf Hodges has been our Membership Secretary for six years. This has been a time of technical change and greater demands in relation to data protection and regulatory compliance. Wilf has undertaken a great deal of work to keep us up-to-date with current regulations and has introduced improved ways of communicating with members and handling data. We are grateful to him for the work he has put in over the years and in the cheerful, professional way he interacts with members. This involves answering queries, ensuring that subscriptions are paid and keeping members of the Committee informed about new and existing members.

Liz Miall has been a member of the Dartmoor Society Committee for over 10 years and is our representative on the Peatland Partnership. Liz has attended the Partnership meetings and expressed our views and concerns there and on site visits. She has comprehensively briefed the Dartmoor Society Committee and kept a watchful eye on the ground during the seasonal ‘restoration’ work.

We are grateful to Chris Chapman for his continued support and commitment to the Dartmoor Society. Whilst he is no longer on the Committee, we value and benefit from his expertise and his insights, the result of over 50 years spent observing Dartmoor and its people. We are lucky to be able to draw on his extensive catalogue of Dartmoor photographs.

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Tim Sandles and Bill Murray © Mike Rego
Photo: Mike Rego

Tim Sandles and Peter Beacham © Mike Rego
Photo: Mike Rego

Mike Gratton and Mike Watson, Sticklepath and Okehampton Conservation Group © Mike Rego
Photo: Mike Rego

Penny Simpson © Bill Murray
Photo: Bill Murray

The 2021 and 2022 Dartmoor Society awards are presented in person at last!

Posted in Awards on Thursday 19th May 2022 at 9:42pm

Each year, we recognise the work of people who make a significant contribution to Dartmoor.

Tim Sandles was presented with the 2021 award by Dartmoor Society president Peter Beacham for his website Legendary Dartmoor.

Tim Sandles began writing about Dartmoor online in 1997. This evolved into his current website Legendary Dartmoor that now receives 40,000 individual visits from all over the world per month and has its own Facebook page and quarterly newsletter. Due to work commitments, Tim now lives in Wales, but that does not get in the way of his enthusiasm for finding a fascinating story about Dartmoor history, folklore and traditions, or its flora and fauna set within a world-renowned landscape.

Tim’s dedication to Dartmoor shines throughout this site which is packed with fascinating facts and stories, all rigorously researched and beautifully presented. The Dartmoor Society was thrilled that he came down from Wales to receive his award in person.

The Sticklepath and Okehampton Conservation Group (StOC) were presented with the 2022 award for ‘their dedication to the conservation of Dartmoor’.

Mike Watson and Mike Gratton received the award on behalf of StOC and spoke to Bill Murray about their work that is focused mainly on the northern part of Dartmoor. They talked about their collaboration with DNPA warden Ian Brooker and their formation which stemmed from a community project at Finch Foundry Sticklepath in 1991, initiated by Norman Dunn from the former Leaze Centre for adults with learning difficulties in Okehampton.

StOC have worked with many groups over the past 30 years including the Dartmoor Commoners, Butterfly Conservation Trust, the National Trust, Woodland Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust, parish councils and schools. The relationships that they have forged with so many different groups are remarkable and they have been able to use the skills and experience built up within the group over many years to respond to calls for help from any one of these organisations.

Winners of the Dartmoor Society award are presented with a plate made by Moretonhampstead potter Penny Simpson and inscribed by Michael Edwards, an artist and printmaker also based in Moretonhampstead: two local artists who collaborate to make plates that have recognised the work of many Dartmoor innovators and artisans over the years.

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Alan Endacott and Peter Beacham © Mike Rego
Photo: Mike Rego

Alan Endacott steps down as Vice Chair of the Dartmoor Society

Posted in Committee on Thursday 19th May 2022 at 9:30pm

Members gathered at South Brent Village Hall on Saturday 7 May as Alan Endacott gave his final address as Vice Chair.

Society President Peter Beacham along with newly-elected Chair Bill Murray and Secretary Caya Edwards paid warm tribute to Alan for the contribution he has made, giving the Society direction and leadership for 3 years whilst the position of Chair has been vacant. 

The Dartmoor Society has benefited from his wide-ranging knowledge of historic landscapes and their management. As an archaeologist, he has an understanding of Dartmoor’s sensitive archaeological landscapes. He was the founder and the first curator of the Museum of Dartmoor life and has an extensive knowledge of local traditions, artefacts and farming. During his tenure as Vice Chair he has stayed focused on the positive ways that the society can contribute to the wellbeing of Dartmoor.

Alan’s ability to communicate and negotiate has resulted in stronger ties with key Dartmoor organisations. The 2021 conference: ‘Hallowed Turf: Perspectives on the conservation of Dartmoor's blanket peat’, was initiated by Alan because it provided an opportunity for people to hear more about the current peatland restoration work on the high moor and the science underpinning it, as well as to question those involved. Although the Dartmoor Society is critical of many aspects of peat restoration, by taking a neutral stance and providing a platform for debate, it gave everyone a chance to make their own judgements and gain a greater understanding of the various perspectives and views from those actually involved.

Alan has an eye on the long and short-term impacts of change. During the height of the Covid pandemic he wrote to the BBC emphasising the huge environmental pressures that TV and radio programmes can cause by encouraging visitors to vulnerable landscapes.

Responding to press reports in 2020, Alan investigated the claim that Natural England required all sheep to be removed from Okehampton Commons over the winter. This was typical of Alan’s style, to broker constructive, face-to-face negotiations, and it was his decision to follow this up and ask Natural England’s Eamon Crowe to speak at the 2021 AGM that resulted in frank feedback and debate. 

Alan’s legacy has been to forge closer ties with other Dartmoor organisations and engender a greater understanding of differing viewpoints.  He recognises that land management issues stem from a range of different perspectives depending on whether you are a farmer, ecologist, archaeologist, whether you earn your living on Dartmoor or want to simply enjoy its landscapes.

In September 2021 the Dartmoor Society visited Elvan Farm, the land his father farmed. During this visit Alan was delighted to be able to demonstrate exemplary stewardship by farmer Steve Alford where farming and wildlife co-exist. 

Alan’s leadership has pressed home the point that this landscape is vulnerable to the whims of the policy-makers of successive governments. He has reaffirmed the Dartmoor Society’s role as scrutineers of legislation or policies that might have a detrimental impact on the moor or its communities.

In his own words, ‘Dartmoor’s place as one of northern Europe’s finest cultural landscapes seems to be frequently played down and its cultural vulnerability ignored. What we have is unique and amazing, let’s celebrate and learn from it!’.

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Bill Murray © Mike Rego
Photo: Mike Rego

The Dartmoor Society welcomes Bill Murray as its new Chair and Nick Fennemore as Vice Chair

Posted in Committee on Thursday 19th May 2022 at 9:15pm

We are delighted to announce Bill Murray as our new Chair of Trustees. Bill is a leading figure in the Dartmoor music scene and was the recipient of the Dartmoor Society Award in 2011 for ‘nurturing the craft of Dartmoor song’ – and for keeping alive the tradition of unaccompanied singing. He was elected at the our AGM on 7 May.

Bill has been a member for many years and has served on the Dartmoor Society committee since last year when he became events organiser, immediately injecting fresh new ideas into our events programme.

He has been performing songs and telling stories, learned from an older generation of singers and storytellers, for over 50 years. You can hear him at our event in October with Jim Causely. He is at home on the north-eastern slopes of Dartmoor but he has been on radio and TV many times and he is also a founder member of the Dartmoor Folk Festival.

The performer is just one side of this Dartmoor enthusiast. His family farming connections keep him well-versed in the issues that face local farmers and the ways that they must adapt to the demands of changing land management issues. He takes an interest in the wellbeing of all aspects of Dartmoor, its people and its wild places. He has contacts far and wide and is proactive in getting out and discussing matters with those who make decisions about Dartmoor’s future.

Joining him as Vice Chair is Nick Fennemore, former NHS Chaplain and Minor Canon of Winchester Cathedral, now living in Chagford. He is no stranger to Dartmoor: he has been visiting for over 60 years and has now been able to accomplish a lifetime ambition to live here!

He has an interest in all things to do with Dartmoor, with a knowledge of flora and fauna, church buildings and the spiritual aspects of the moor.

Bill and Nick are joined on the committee by new members Bridget Cole, Anthea Hoey and Rachel van der Steen.

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Alan Endacott © Mike Rego
Photo: Mike Rego

Dartmoor Society Statement on Climate Change

Posted in Responses/Comments on Wednesday 11th May 2022 at 8:34pm

We have commented on a number of plans and policies over recent years, with specific regard to local issues thrown up by climate change. We are conscious, however, that these don’t necessarily reflect the views of all our members, or capture other innovative and constructive ideas that might be relevant to Dartmoor.

We have gathered together in a single document a number of previous comments, along with some fresh ideas, as the basis for discussion.

We are currently working on a new website for the Dartmoor Society and we are looking at ways that members can contribute thoughts and comments to this document and future policy statements.

Members comments will also be taken into account in any future public consultation exercises.

Our Position on Climate Change in the Dartmoor Context 

In our view, Dartmoor should not simply be seen as a carbon store in the context of tackling climate change and we see inherent dangers in the commodifying of carbon offsetting and its commercial exploitation, in addition to the potential negative impacts of projects driven by public funding schemes rather than clearly identified needs and justifications.

Dartmoor is different to the rest of Devon and the Southwest in many respects and should be treated as such so any general Government policies should be tailored to the specific circumstances of Dartmoor. This is particularly the case when it comes to issues like Energy saving measures and Transport policies.

With regard to renewable energy production, the visual intrusion of wind turbines and solar panels should remain a determining factor within and adjacent to the National Park and local or National Park Authority planning controls should not be overridden by Central Government dictates. However, suitable alternative green solutions, such as hydro-electricity and small-scale wind power generation and discreet solar installations should be considered and encouraged with appropriate financial incentives.

Government-backed energy-saving advisory and grant schemes should take full account of the special character of the National Park and the traditional-built nature of its existing housing stock. We would support a specific and tailored scheme offering help to home owners and rental property landlords within the National Park.

The opportunities for small-scale, light industrial development should also take account of the National Parks special circumstances and encourage suitable employment opportunities within the Park, without the need to travel long distances to work. This also applies to the provision of the technological infrastructure.

New tourism developments should, as far as possible, be sustainable in all aspects of their operation, including encouraging the use of public transport for visitors.

There should be an integrated public transport system for the National Park which allows for transport hubs with ample parking facilities or rail links around the periphery of the National Park and a network of low carbon or carbon-neutral buses and cycle ways with adjacent hire facilities, along with electric vehicle charging facilities.

We strongly believe in the environmental as well as social and economic value of traditional and sustainable farming to Dartmoor and support the marketing and sale of locally-produced food of all kinds over imported and processed food, especially where this involves substantial food miles, poorer welfare and quality standards and impacts on the environment and wellbeing of local populations in other parts of the world. These issues need to be assessed holistically when considering large-scale ‘re-wilding’ initiatives where substantial areas of land are taken out of food production altogether, lest there are unintended or unknown knock-on consequences.

We believe that maintaining appropriate stocking levels on the commons not only helps to control species such as Molinia, gorse and bracken that are less beneficial to a healthy biodiversity but, if well-managed in rotation, also help the process of carbon sequestration and healthy biodiversity. 

We recognise the potential benefits of conserving blanket peat in order to sequester and store more carbon and support projects that give nature a helping hand in the process of regeneration. However, we feel that more account needs to be taken of carbon and methane released as a consequence of the works themselves and that the creation of large areas of deep water on exposed hill tops might actually lead to a reduced efficiency in carbon sequestration.

While we are in favour of native, broad-leafed tree planting and encouraging natural regeneration by the exclusion of livestock (and people) exclusion from agreed areas, we are concerned about the impact of wholesale tree planting over large areas of the uplands as a means of carbon trading as this is not only historically alien to this environment (the Forest of Dartmoor was never a forest!) but trees are ten times less efficient at carbon sequestration than peat.

In our view – based on the knowledge and experience of our farming members and other long-term observations – the overall substantial reduction of livestock numbers over the past thirty years has led to the rising dominance of Molinia, gorse and bracken.

We are concerned by the increasing demand for housing and second homes, both on and around Dartmoor, following the pandemic, not only for the impact this will have on local housing needs and affordability but the consequent pressure for new development and the impact this will have on the local infrastructure and road networks and, in turn, climate change.   

With regard to our own Society activities, we undertake to reduce our carbon footprint by holding more video conference meetings and events and by encouraging lift sharing or the use of public transport for any members’ activities and by offering more online services, for example, using the website, emails and social media to disseminate information and news to members and the wider public where possible and not detrimental to members without access to the necessary technology.   

Alan Endacott, July 2021

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