NEW IMMERSIVE TOURISM EXPERIENCES LAUNCHED ON EXMOOR

A suite of new experiences aimed at inspiring more international tourists to explore the extraordinary landscapes and culture of Exmoor National Park are being unveiled at a public event today at Dunster Castle (Wednesday 27 February). They form part of the English National Park Experience Collection – a selection of over 70 immersive visitor experiences across nine National Parks in England funded by VisitEngland’s Discover England Fund.

Research suggests that when people travel they no longer want to just ‘see’ a place; they want to live it, breathe it, touch it and become part of it. The new collection offers outstanding visitor experiences in some of the country’s finest landscapes. Each experience has been carefully selected, developed and curated to tell the stories of Exmoor National Park, and the people who care for it.

During the course of the 12-month project, Exmoor National Park Authority held a series of workshops to help local tourism providers identify the most authentic and compelling experiences, and train them in how best to engage the international travel trade.

Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Exmoor is a very special place and, through this project, we hope to inspire more people to explore its wonderful landscape, and learn about the amazing people, heritage and wildlife behind it. By targeting independent and small group travel through overseas tour operators, we hope to open up new markets, helping tourism continue to grow sustainably and contribute to the vibrancy of our local communities.

“Independent research by the University of Exeter commissioned by the National Park Authority previously highlighted the need to talk more about the experiences that visitors can enjoy in the incredible landscape. This new project has allowed us to turn that research into action, by supporting a number of micro rural businesses to take advantage of new market trends.”

The nine experiences available on Exmoor are:

  1. Literary Footsteps – Follow in the footsteps of great writers, see the landscapes that inspired their work and experience their countryside and its traditions through a choice of informative and entertaining guided walks, finishing with a jug of local ale or cream tea at a traditional English pub.
  2. Fly back to Nature with Owls and Hawks – Marvel at the beauty of a close encounter with these impressive birds as they fly to your gloved hand in the timeless surroundings of a fifteenth-century farmstead.
  3. Medieval Dunster – Explore the ancient castle and its grounds and the charming historic village. See how Dunster flour is made, from grain to bag, enjoying an interactive mill experience before sampling the produce used to best advantage in a traditional lunch or cream team.
  4. Moods of Exmoor – Unlock the secrets of Exmoor through the lens of your camera. Discover hidden views, breath-taking landscapes and colourful seasonal changes with an internationally renowned, local photographer who is delighted to share his tips and advice throughout the day.
  5. Exmoor Wildlife Safari – Get off the beaten track with an experienced local safari guide, learn all about the local myths and legends, wildlife and terrain on this extended 4×4 safari, with the opportunity to meet the ponies close up at the Exmoor Pony centre.
  6. Old English Rural Life – Step back in time and discover the history of the Holnicote Estate – the largest single land ownership gifted to the National Trust. This ranger-guided walk starts with a delicious local breakfast and finishes with a cream tea on the beach.
  7. Seafront Dining Adventure – Fish for your lunch with a local mackerel fisherman and see the famous Porlock Oyster beds then head for land where you’ll savour your beautifully prepared catch, and sip local wine in an idyllic waterfront restaurant.
  8. Victorian Exmoor – Experience life in the Victorian Era; take a guided walk through the seaside villages of Lynton and Lynmouth to ride the famous cliff railway and then relax in a Victorian heritage carriage behind a steam engine on a trip through the Exmoor countryside.
  9. Plus the new Exmoor National Park Ranger Experience days, piloted last year, offering a unique insight into the varied life of a National Park Ranger plus a full farmhouse lunch.

Supporting accommodation providers include the Luttrell Arms and Yarn Market Hotel in Dunster, the Hunters Inn, and the Old Rectory Hotel in north-west Exmoor and the Exmoor White Horse Hotel in Exford.

Sarah Fowler, Sustainable Tourism Lead for the nine English National Parks and Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “This brand-new collection of experiences has been designed to harness the growing demand for experiential tourism; alongside quality accommodation they will be easy to book options for the overseas travel trade. From travel agents, tour operators, wholesales or guides, there is something in the mix for most buyers’ upcoming schedules or brochures, helping to support hundreds of businesses across our National Parks.”

See the newly launched English National Park Experience Collection website for information about the full range of experiences: www.nationalparkexperiences.co.uk.

PHOTO: By Dan James

FUNDING BOOST FOR PROJECTS CELEBRATING EXMOOR

Five new community projects set to benefit Exmoor and its special qualities are the latest to receive grants from the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund*.

All the schemes have been awarded funding of up to £2,500 in recognition of their contribution to National Park purposes to conserve and enhance the wildlife, natural beauty and cultural heritage of the area, and promote opportunities for people to enjoy them.

Successful bids included money towards a unique poetry project, jointly funded with the Exmoor Society, looking to raise awareness of the benefits of pasture-fed livestock. Poet Adam Horovitz will be staying with two Exmoor Hill Farming Network farmers who are championing the approach, and turning his experiences into a collection of poetry encapsulating how they work in harmony with nature to raise their animals. They will be published later this year as an addition to ‘The Soil Never Sleeps’ – an earlier collection inspired by shadowing farmers throughout the seasons.

The project is the brainwave of John Meadley, President of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association – an alliance of certified farms committed to feeding their livestock on 100% pasture throughout life. He said: “There aren’t many farming organisations who can say they have a poet in residence, but thanks to this grant we’re delighted to be working with Adam to help promote the many benefits of raising livestock in the way nature intended. We hope that through his unique talent for capturing the passions and beliefs that drive farmers, we’ll be able to convince more people why pasture-fed is best for their health, the planet, the welfare of the animals and even the farmer’s purse.”

Philip Kiberd, Funding Officer at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The Partnership Fund exists for the benefit of everyone who lives in, visits and cares about the National Park. We can offer match funding of up to £2,500 in return for either cash or in-kind contributions, such as volunteer time, making it really accessible for anyone with a great idea to get help with funding. It’s great to see so many innovative projects going on in the National Park and we look forward to awarding the next round of funding in March.”

Funding awards are made around four times a year, and applicants have until 4 March to submit an expression of interest in time to be considered for the next funding round. Community-led projects that can enhance the landscape, help nature, investigate heritage or introduce new people to the National Park are of particular interest. 2019 is also the Year of Green Action and the 70th anniversary of the founding legislation for UK National Parks, providing further inspiration for people to put forward their ideas.

Full details, guidance notes and application forms are available on the Authority’s website at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/partnership-fund or to discuss an idea contact the Funding Officer on 01398 322237 or partnershipfund@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.

* Recently supported projects include:
1.     A grant to help protect and conserve Brendon Hill Methodist Church, safeguarding part of Exmoor’s building heritage
2.     Funding towards the development of Porlock Weir Pilot Gig  Club adding to recreational activity on Exmoor’s coast
3.     A contribution to a new floodgate at Western Beach, Lynmouth, allowing winter access for people, while keeping the storms out
4.     A grant for a farming poetry project offering an alternative voice to Exmoor hill farming
5.     Funding towards a Lorna Doone exhibition led by Dulverton Heritage Centre, celebrating 150 years, in 2019, since the publication of this Exmoor novel.


PHOTO: Exmoor hill farmer Oliver Edwards pictured with poet Adam Horovitz during a recent stay at Westermill Farm to learn about lambing.

FARMERS URGED TO BID ONLINE FOR FLOOD WORK

Farmers across Somerset are being invited to bid in the UK’s first countywide auction for works to help stop flooding.

The auction will be run online from 26 February – 12 March using a new Environment Agency web app, which can be found at www.nfmauction.org.uk.

The website offers Somerset farmers a unique combination of possibilities: first, to select for themselves different natural flood management (NFM) activities; second, to pick out parts of their land where they believe those activities will produce the best flood prevention results for them and for local communities; third, to bid for funding for those activities.

As the main purpose of NFM activities in Somerset is to slow the flow of water down through the higher parts of river catchments, the web app will not allow farmers to place bids for land in low-lying Internal Drainage Board areas, but the auction otherwise covers the length and breadth of Somerset.  After the auction closes, bids will be checked by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW (FWAG SW). Grants from Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) will then be given to the best, most competitively-priced ideas.

Cllr John Osman, SRA Chairman, said: “This is still a very new system, but all the signs are that it has many strengths. It cuts out paperwork. It saves time and money. It draws on farmers’ unrivalled knowledge of their own land. It’s easy to use – and it gets results.

“Last summer, as a trial of the web app, there was a much smaller auction in the catchments of the River Tone and River Parrett in Somerset and the SRA gave out 22 grants to winning bids. Flood risks to local communities have been reduced through improvements that farmers have been able to make. So it’s a win-win.

“Now we’re opening it up across the county, I hope many Somerset farmers will give it a go.”

Grants are being offered for five different natural flood management measures: maize management, grassland subsoiling, hedge planting, soil bunds, and leaky dams. All help to slow the flow of water, while delivering other benefits. Grassland subsoiling, for example, aerates the ground so that more rainwater can filter in; it also improves the soil.

Anthony Gothard, a Stoke St Gregory farmer who won a maize management grant in last year’s trial auction, said: “It only took me a few minutes to place my bid online and there wasn’t any paperwork. I’m really pleased with what I’ve been able to achieve with the grant money.”

Since the devastating flooding of the Somerset Levels in 2013-14, hundreds of natural flood management initiatives have been carried out across Somerset, as part of the county’s pioneering Hills to Levels project and overarching 20 Year Flood Action Plan. Hills to Levels has so far won two national awards, and this new auction shows Somerset continuing to lead the UK with fresh ideas for tackling local flooding hotspots.

For further information relating to the auction or the Hills to Levels project please contact Victoria Munday victoria.munday@fwagsw.org.uk or Ellen James ellen.james@fwagsw.org.uk

PHOTO: Hedge planting funded by the 2018 auction.

SOMERSET MP MAKES PROGRESS WITH RIVERS AUTHORITIES BILL

The following is a press release from the Somerset Rivers Authority, issued earlier this month (more on this topic tomorrow…)

A Private Members’ Bill to help secure the future of Somerset Rivers Authority, and give local people more powers to tackle flooding, is making progress in Parliament.

After an hour-long debate in the House of Commons, the Somerton and Frome Conservative MP David Warburton’s Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill passed its Second Reading stage, unopposed. The Bill will next be examined more closely by MPs in what is known as the Committee stage.

Mr Warburton opened the debate by reminding MPs of the devastating floods of 2013-14, when “100 million cubic metres of water covered Somerset’s otherwise green and pleasant land… Livelihoods really were driven to the brink, and people were understandably driven to despair.” Somerset drew up a 20 Year Flood Action Plan, from which came a provisional Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA).

If Mr Warburton’s Bill makes it all the way through the House of Commons and House of Lords, there will then be a public consultation across Somerset, after which the SRA could be firmly established in law as a Flood Risk Management Authority with powers specially focused on Somerset. The SRA would be independently able to raise funds for its work through a share of council tax known as a precept.

Mr Warburton told the House: “A flood risk management authority would have duties and would, for the first time, be able to put its finances on a stable footing as a precepting body. The Bill includes additional safeguards for local taxpayers, of course, and would allow the rivers authority to plan its water and flood management schemes into the future and thereby create a safer, more secure environment for us all.”

Reacting to news of the Bill’s successful Second Reading, Cllr John Osman, Chairman of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “I’m delighted to see the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill making progress. Somerset Rivers Authority is doing a great deal of extra work to tackle flooding problems across Somerset, but legislation is needed to secure its long-term future.

“David Warburton has had to be extremely persistent in getting matters to this stage, and everyone involved with the SRA is very grateful to him for his determination.

“In the debate, it was heartening to hear support from other MPs. Let’s hope that continues.”

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones (Conservative) said in the debate that he looked upon Somerset “with envious eyes” because Mr Warburton’s Somerton and Frome constituency was covered by Somerset Rivers Authority.

Mr Heaton-Jones went on: “The SRA has done extraordinarily valuable work for his constituents, and householders and residents in the other constituencies across Somerset…  I particularly welcome my hon. Friend’s Bill and his contribution today, because it seeks to hark back to a time when we rightly had rivers authorities, which were doing work that is best done by local experts, local people – those who know the environment.”

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Flooding and Coastal Communities, Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said the Opposition thanked Mr Warburton for bringing the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill forward. It was “long overdue’ and rivers authorities would be “a good thing”.

Mr Pollard concluded: “We face unprecedented challenges in defending our lowland areas and coastal communities from flooding. The Bill is welcome, and it will help communities if local authorities use the powers. We need to look at how we can incentivise communities to get there, and we need a comprehensive plan for every community at risk of flooding. If we cannot get this Private Member’s Bill through Parliament, I encourage the Minister to ensure that the Government swiftly adopt the measures to make sure that communities that could benefit are not hindered by the fact that the Bill was not introduced in Government time.”

George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, and Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, congratulated David Warburton on bringing an “important Bill” forward. Mr Eustice recalled his own experience of Somerset flooding, and said: “The Government fully understand how important this issue is for the people of Somerset and fully support the work of the Somerset Rivers Authority… The Government fully support the Bill going to the next stage.”

PHOTO: SRA-funded work to repair the joints between 300 8-metre concrete slabs in the River Avill’s flood relief channel at Dunster, looking out to sea. In this picture, the joints are being cleaned out.

WATCHET COASTAL COMMUNITY TEAM WINS MAJOR FUNDING

Watchet Coastal Community Team is delighted that their application for £240,000 for Place Based Social Action has been successful.  The project is one of only ten places countrywide to be awarded the funding from The National Lottery Community Fund and Department of Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). They are now able to deliver six strands of community action projects that aim to work with and engage local people to help solve local problems.

The funding is to support volunteering and social action in the town over three years, and is the result of a year’s worth of work by the WCCT to establish what the local difficulties were in the town and co-design solutions as to how local people might be involved in fixing some of those problems.  Led by Watchet Coastal Community Team as a membership organisation, the WCCT are particularly pleased to have Onion Collective as the delivery partner in the scheme, making full use of their experience and expertise.

The funding will support six projects that include: young people, peer tutors and a ‘mini university’ community transport, information sharing, deliberative democracy and digital gaming. Part of the mini university project will also be to refurbish the much-loved Harbour Community Bookshop building at 7 The Esplanade, as a community volunteer build.  If anyone is interested in becoming involved with any of the projects please contact Georgie Grant, secretary of WCCT at Georgie@onioncollective.co.uk  This successful bid is a great example of collaboration between the whole Watchet community, as well as Onion Collective, Watchet Town Council, West Somerset and Taunton Deane District Council, Somerset County Council and Watchet Coastal Community Team.  The WCCT are thankful for the level of collaboration and unified desire so see the best outcome achieved for the town.

The Placed Based Social Action programme is funded using £4.5 million of Government and National Lottery funding. It aims to support communities to put social action at the heart of plans which make a positive difference in the local area. It gives people the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the design and delivery of local services by bringing together communities, local authorities, public sector organisations, service providers, civil society organisations and businesses to address local priorities.

Following the three years of delivery for this project, up to five of the ten partnerships now put through will be awarded further funding of up to £255,000 to develop and expand their plans for another three years to December 2024.

Watchet Coastal Community Team is a partnership organisation made up of 30 local organisations, businesses, community groups and Town, District and County Council. The team work collaboratively to help further initiatives that help to benefit the town both economically and socially. The Watchet CCT now want to appeal to any local people who are interested in becoming involved with any of the projects, and who would like to know more.  To find out more about the projects called Georgie Grant on 07940 950396 or email her at Georgie@onioncollective.co.uk. There will be more information about the projects available shortly at the website at www.watchetcct.co.uk

CELEBRATION TO MARK OPENING OF TEMPLETON COMMUNITY LANDING SITE

Mr Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, joined local residents and Devon Air Ambulance Community Landing Sites Development Officer, Toby Russell, earlier this month to celebrate the opening of a Community Landing Site at Templeton Village Hall.

The idea to establish a landing site to support Devon Air Ambulance’s night operations was first raised by Sue Squire, Clerk to Templeton Parish Council, and the use of the land by the Village Hall was then explored. The Parish Council approved the idea and Parish Councillor, David Leeming, liaised with DAA, Devon County and Mid Devon District Council so a new lighting column could be provided at the Village Hall, an important requirement for a community landing site.

A landing site on the edge of the car park was selected by DAA, and the Village Hall Committee gave permission for DAA to use the land. The lighting column has two remotely operated lights that are switched on before the helicopter lands in the event of an emergency during the hours of darkness.

Toby Russell, Community Landing Sites Development Officer at DAA, said, “We were delighted to have the support of so many people who facilitated this landing site and to welcome Neil Parish to its opening. In addition to the grant given through the Bank LIBOR fines towards the project, we would like to thank Investing In Devon (for a grant towards the project), Sarah Coffin, Templeton Parish Council Chair, Parish Councillors (the Parish Council gave a grant towards the project) and Reg Coffin, Templeton Village Hall Committee Chair and Committee.

“Thank you to everyone involved for their time and support and for coming along to celebrate the opening.”

FURTHER ACCOLADES FOR DUNSTER BEACH HUTS

Salad Days and Holi Moli Beach Huts at Dunster Beach have been recognised by Theo Paphitis, retail magnate and entrepreneur. He is best known for his appearances on the BBC business programme Dragons’ Den but also runs #SBS on Twitter to recognise small businesses with entrepreneurial spirit.

Theo says, “I admire people who have passion and energy. If you cannot bore your friends to death about your own small business then something is seriously wrong. I was struck by the number of business owners on Twitter who wanted to tell me about their new products and services. Small Business Sunday was born so that people have a specific time slot to tweet and can pitch their ‘sell’ directly to me.

“My vision is that everyone who has ever won an #SBS re-tweet from me becomes part of a friendly club. Like-minded individuals can share successes and learnings. This website will give a valuable profile to the winners chosen to date and should help those who have not yet won but want some tips on how to do so. You will find news about the latest winners plus events and activities of interest.

“I know I have been lucky in business and I am keen now to spread goodwill to others, of course not forgetting that, very often, you make your own luck by making use of every opportunity.”

“We are absolutely delighted being chosen from hundreds of applicants to win this accolade. Being an #SBS winner will give Salad Days and Holi Moli Beach Huts as well as Dunster Beach unprecedented exposure nationwide,” said Brett Bates, co-owner of the beach huts with his partner Susan Juggins. ”With the launch of our newest beach hut Holi Moli it will only add to the incredible success of Salad Days, helping to bring many more tourists to this wonderful part of South West England.”

Find out more on the Salad Days & Holi Moli website dunsterbeachhut.com/

Salad Days & Holi Moli Facebook page

SWAN IN GASTROPUB TOP 20!

The Swan at Bampton is celebrating after being named for the third year running as one of the top 50 gastropubs in the country at an industry-wide awards ceremony in Maidenhead recently (January 28 2019).

The multi-award-winning pub has polled in at number 20 this year. It received a special award as the highest climber in the list in 2018 when it was rated 28th and in 2017 it was positioned just inside the chart at 50.

Chef-patron Paul Berry, who co-owns The Swan with his wife and fellow award-winning chef Donna, said: “We’re absolutely delighted! It’s a testament to our team, our customers and our suppliers. They are wonderful people and each one of them has a share in this.

“Last year we were ranked as number 28 and the year before we just made it into this elite group of pubs with chefs and teams who are at the very top of their game, so we couldn’t have been happier. But now to be into the top 20, it’s just amazing. We’re in such great company, with the likes of Tom Kerridge’s pub the Hand and Flowers in the top 20 too, it’s just a wonderful feeling and we’re speechless!

“The ‘Estrella Damm’ Top 50 Gastropub Awards are voted for by food writers, executive chefs, celebrity and top hospitality industry chefs, pub guide editors, industry chiefs and food operators. We’re the industry’s choice and are delighted to be part of these awards again this year.”

The ceremony is organised by the publican’s publication, The Morning Advertiser, which says the top 50 is the definitive list of the best gastropubs in Britain.

Editor of the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs, Nicholas Robinson, said in The Morning Advertiser: “Gastropubs are an example of everything that is great about the UK food and drink scene.

“There’s something phenomenal happening in gastropubs up and down the country, they are growing and maintaining that growth where chains and other restaurants are failing.”

No stranger to accolades, The Swan scooped a plethora of other awards last year, including being named Gold Tourism Pub of the Year 2018 at the South West Tourism Excellence Awards and being voted Best Dining Pub for 2018 in the Trencherman Awards.

The Swan also retained its four AA Gold Stars and two AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence in 2018, for the fourth-year-running, and chef-patron Donna Berry was a finalist in both the Devon Life and Trencherman Awards.

To find out more about The Swan, please call 01398 332248 or visit www.theswan.co/.

DUNSTER VILLAGE PHOTO COMPETITION

The Dunster Tourism Forum (DTF) has launched its first ever photography competition. The theme for 2019 is simply ’The Most Beautiful Photo of Dunster’, which gives a wide scope for the many talented amateur, semi-professional and professional photographers in the area to showcase their talents.

The deadline for entries is 15 June 2019. The prizes include a luxury weekend stay for two in Dunster’s 13th-century Luttrell Arms Hotel with an evening dinner and a visit to the hotel’s new Beauty Rooms, Sunday lunch for two at award-winning Reeves Restaurant and vouchers to spend in Raft Dunster boutique and Dunster Living interior shop. Each winner also receives a full-day studio photography course with Nina Dodd, a professional photographer of 25 years based in the village. 

In addition, there’s a ‘People’s Choice’ Award where followers of the competition’s Facebook page can vote for their favourites from a selection of entries.

Best entries will also be displayed in the village in a free outdoor exhibition in 2019 and in a 2020 Dunster calendar.

The photography competition is the first of several new events for Dunster in 2019 and has received great interest from the start with over 2200 Facebook page views in the first few days of the launch.

For more information on the competition and Dunster visit www.discoverdunster.info/

WEST COUNTRY BLACKSMITHS SHORTLISTED FOR AWARD

A bespoke staircase project made in Somerset by Exmoor-based West Country Blacksmiths has been shortlisted for the Architects’ Journal Architecture specification award 2019 in the category of ‘Stairs and Lifts’. The staircase was created for a property in the nature reserve of Sartfell Mountain on the Isle of Man.

The project is a real Somerset-based collaboration. The house was designed by Foster Lomas, a London-based architects practice which was originally founded by friends Greg Lomas and Will Foster who both grew up in Somerset and visit family in Somerset regularly. The metalwork design concept was developed between architects, CAD Designer John Hesp of Porlock and West Country Blacksmiths based near Minehead.

The central feature of the property is eight tons’ worth of bespoke metalwork all made by West Country Blacksmiths at their historic National Trust Forge on the Holnicote Estate near Minehead. The metalwork includes two staircases and walkways made from steel and perforated stainless steel and also incorporates steel bookshelves which span over two floors.

The metalwork has been finished with a unique antiquing acid etch treatment with a protective lacquered finish with exception of the handrail which has been hand polished prior to the protective lacquer finishing. The treads and walkways have been made from perforated stainless steel which has been grain polished.

The team took over seven months to develop the design and produce metalwork which was sent from Somerset to the Isle of Man on two lorries with the team’s tools. The craftsmen of West Country Blacksmiths flew out to meet and carry out the installation of their metalwork which took over seven days to complete.

West Country Blacksmiths co-founder said, “We were privileged to be given the opportunity to work on this project and we’re extremely proud of what the team involved in the project have produced. We are so proud that the quality of design and execution of this metalwork has been recognised by industry experts and shortlisted as one of the six best ‘Stairs and Lifts’ projects in the country.”

The awards will take place on 15 February in Manchester and will be attended by the team involved in the project.

The building was also shortlisted in the AJ Architects ‘House of the Year’ category for 2018.

PHOTO: by Edmund Sumner.