HEDGE-LAYING SKILLS PUT TO THE TEST

Just over a week left to enter your hedge!

A competition to award the region’s most skilled hedge-layers is being run once again by Exmoor National Park Authority, following generous sponsorship from the Exmoor Trust for another year.

Work carried out during the autumn and winter months each year results in a considerable transformation along many lanes and field edges, as once-shady, outgrown hedges are cut and laid. This traditional management is crucial in order to rejuvenate the hedgerows, which are iconic features of Exmoor’s farming history and important habitats for a diverse range of wildlife. The work relies on traditional skills that date back centuries and provides employment for numerous people on Exmoor during the winter months.

Heather Harley, a Conservation Officer for Exmoor National Park, said: “Thick, bushy hedgerows are an enduring feature of the Exmoor landscape and can be wonderful habitats for wildlife, providing corridors of shelter and food for all sorts of insects, birds and small mammals. But if not properly managed, the hedgebanks can deteriorate over time as shrubs and trees mature, often resulting in a thin, gappy line, susceptible to the elements.

“This award was set up to recognise the highly skilled hedge-laying work that farmers, land managers and contractors do for the benefit of the wildlife and landscape of the National Park, and we wish all entrants the very best of luck this year.”

Susan May, Chairman of the Exmoor Trust, said: “Exmoor’s beech hedges are a fundamental part of the fabric of the moor and the Exmoor Trust is very happy to sponsor the prizes for this competition again this year. Several hedges have been laid over the past few months and the skills shown are to be applauded – so do enter the competition”.

To be eligible, all or part of the farm must be within Exmoor National Park and the hedge must have been laid during the winter of 2018/19. There are two classes, ‘Open’ and ‘Novice’, and the winner of each class will receive £200, 2nd place £100 and £50 will go to the 3rd place. The judges include members of the Devon and Somerset Hedge Groups, who are experienced West Country hedge-layers themselves. The previous year’s Open Class winners are also invited to join the judging panel.

The deadline is 24 May 2019 and entries must be submitted together with at least one photo of the completed hedge, and, if possible, a photo of the hedge before work took place with whoever carried out the work. For further information or an entry form please ring Exmoor National Park Authority on 01398 323665 or email hjharley@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.

Photo caption: Last year’s winning hedge at Cloggs Farm, which was laid by Mark Jackson.

NEW GUIDANCE AIMS TO KEEP EXMOOR FAMILIES FARMING

The following is a press release issued by Exmoor National Park Authority

The draft “Rural Worker and Succession Farm Dwelling Guidance” applies to those working in land-based businesses in the National Park, such as farming or forestry, and is supplementary to existing national guidelines as well as those set out in the Local Plan for the National Park.

Nationally, homes in the open countryside are only permitted in exceptional circumstances, such as the need for a full-time worker to be permanently on site to tend livestock. Local planning policy further recognises that maintaining the fabric of Exmoor’s farming community is intrinsic to conserving the distinct landscapes and habitats of the National Park, along with the centuries-old farming practices that help sustain them.

For example, there is extra flexibility to help older farmers retire and a younger generation to take on responsibility for the farm business, or for larger dwellings to be applied for if the scale or nature of the enterprise demands it and the need can’t be met through alternative arrangements. But equally the rules are necessarily stringent around the impact of any new dwelling on the landscape to ensure they are sensitive to the unique character and scenic beauty of the National Park. These new guidelines are intended to help balance these two obligations.

Robin Milton, Chairman of the National Park Authority, said: “This is an important document for Exmoor and its communities to ensure there are opportunities for new housing where it is essential to working people being able to live locally and to conserve and enhance this beautiful area. It is intended to help applicants and all those involved in planning for farm dwellings in the National Park and we would love to hear people’s views.”

Martin Dewdney, Chairman of the National Park Authority Planning Committee, added: “If adopted, this document will form part of an extensive toolkit on offer to help with these kinds of planning applications that also includes regular planning surgeries and free pre-application advice. As the Local Plan is already adopted, it won’t form part of the consultation, but we warmly welcome any comments focused on this latest guidance.”

The draft guidelines and comments form are available from the planning policy section of the Exmoor National Park Authority website* and as hard copies at the following locations: National Park Centres in Dulverton, Dunster and Lynmouth, Lynton and Porlock libraries, Exmoor House in Dulverton and West Somerset and North Devon Council Offices in Williton and Barnstaple.

A WALKING TRIP TO EXMOOR RELYING SOLELY ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Thank you to reader Gerry Shattock from Exeter for writing this account of his trip to Exmoor last month, during which he relied solely on public transport and stayed at The Lorne Doone Hotel, Orchard House Hotel in Lynmouth, the Simonsbath House Hotel, Tarr Farm and the Mitre Inn in Witheridge. We thought that readers might be interested to see how he got on…

Exploring Exmoor on Foot

I spent four full days and two half-days walking across Exmoor in April 2019, using public transport from and to Exeter. The total distance is estimated to be 66 miles and, whilst the mileage covered on the four full days varied, the distances were quite manageable and planned based on my limited experience of undertaking this kind of walking.

Day 1
Train-and-bus-link Exeter to Minehead; walk 9 miles Minehead to Porlock on the SW Coast Path which was well signed. Steady climb out of Minehead with steep drops to the sea after the peak of North Hill, which induced mild feelings of vertigo in the author in the buffeting wind! (An alternative SW Coast Path route is possible.) Saw a lizard basking in the sun; stayed at the Lorna Doone Hotel in Porlock.

Day 2
Walk 12 miles Porlock to Lynmouth on the SW Coast Path. Steady climb from Porlock Weir and then generally level walking in woodland for a good half of the distance. Culbone Church, Sisters’ Fountain and the entrance to the Glenthorne Estate gave the walk a distinctly gothic feel in the light drizzle. First views of Lynmouth from Butter Hill, from which the drop down to the sea induced strong feelings of vertigo in the author! No alternative SW Coast Path is shown on the map, but a different route could be planned and the author took the road down to Lynmouth from Countisbury. Bought provisions in Lynton; overnight in the Orchard House Hotel in Lynmouth.

Day 3
Walk 9.5 miles Lynmouth to Simonsbath on the Two Moors Way. Lynmouth is the beginning/end of the Two Moors Way and most people choose to walk south-to-north, allegedly to avoid the climb up out of Lynmouth but the climb above the East Lyn River and finally up over Cheriton Ridge, and Exmoor proper, was fantastic. After some impromptu navigation past a small stone circle, the route followed established tracks and paths – plus my first deer sightings on Hoaroak Hill and later above the River Exe – before being signposted down into the hamlet, with accommodation at the Simonsbath House Hotel.

Day 4
Walk 11 miles Simonsbath to Tarr Steps on the Two Moors Way. Down the majestic Barle Valley with sightings of two sizeable deer herds on the southern slopes and a pair of heron flying ahead of me. The valley is full of history and Matthew Arnold’s guide encourages a quick ascent of the Cow Castle Settlement adjacent to the river, which the author can fully endorse. The route leaves the Barle for a while to follow a drover’s track, then lane, down into Withypool: bought provisions from the Village Shop which is responsible for cleaning the public toilets in the village: thank you! The path then follows the Barle across meadows, around tree roots and over huge stone slabs until the iconic Tarr Steps clapper bridge can be seen: stayed at the Tarr Farm Inn.

Day 5
Walk 14.5 miles Tarr Steps to Witheridge on the Two Moors Way. Made an early start and walked to Hawkridge on the road before re-joining the Two Moors Way then, leaving Somerset, climbing and crossing West Anstey Common before dropping down into mid-Devon. This last stretch of Exmoor on the Two Moors Way is celebrated by Peter Randall-Page’s impressive sculpture facing its mirror image on Dartmoor, and after that the countryside changed markedly. Farming was still predominantly of sheep, but the Way more often picked up local footpaths and lanes before finally threading alongside a stream and some pine trees and up into Witheridge, where snacks were purchased at the store and accommodation was at The Mitre Inn.

Day 6
Walk 10 miles Witheridge to Morchard Road on the Two Moors Way; train Morchard Road to Exeter. The Way was largely through beef and dairy agricultural land, and whilst it was well marked it was necessary to concentrate on finding the route. There were two detours which were well-signed but the author found the design of some of the kissing gates (or his technique for progressing through them?!) inappropriate for someone carrying a 40l rucksack. From Morchard Bishop the Two Moors Way snakes across farmland before crossing the A377 Barnstaple to Exeter road, but the author chose to walk along the (busy) roads to Morchard Station, to avoid walking along the A377.

Total transport costs for the trip were £24 and accommodation in pubs and hotels was £70-90 per night (booked at short notice) for bed, breakfast and evening meal, usually with en-suite facilities and always with Wi-Fi. Some food supplies were carried from home and an additional £15 was spent on provisions during the walk.

PHOTO: Withypool courtesy of ENPA.

MINISTER SEEKS OUT PROJECTS CHANGING NATIONAL PARKS FOR THE BETTER

National Parks charity, Campaign for National Parks, has joined forces with the Government’s Year of Green Action to seek out the very best projects making a difference in the National Parks.

Winning projects will receive either a £1,500 or £2,000 boost in recognition of their work safeguarding the most beloved landscapes in the country in the first ever joint Park Protector and Year of Green Action Awards.

Minister for National Parks, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, said: “National Parks are incredibly important and it is essential that we celebrate the people who work hard to protect these special landscapes for all of us, and future generations, to enjoy.

“These awards are open to anyone making a difference to the future of these fantastic natural spaces.”

Nominations are open until Friday 31 May. Nominated projects must be seeking to connect people with the environment, conserve or enhance the biodiversity or a heritage site, improve access to the Parks, or protect an area in a National Park. Nominate here.

A project restoring a bog habitat for rare wetland species won last year’s Award. They were presented with their award by actress Caroline Quentin and journalist Julian Glover at a Parliamentary reception. This year Campaign for National Parks will also be celebrating 70 years since the 1949 Act of Parliament established the National Parks – something the organisation has led the fight for.

Andrew Hall of Campaign for National Parks said: “In past years we’ve had projects applying that cover everything from teaching kids salmon fishing in the North York Moors, mass volunteering in Snowdonia and using traditional skills to conserve the New Forest. This is a fantastic opportunity and we are delighted to work with Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust and DEFRA to make this happen this year.”

“If you are dedicated to connecting people and nature and caring for our cherished National Parks, then I urge you to apply. You have nothing to lose but the National Parks that you love have everything to gain,” commented Lord Gardiner.

The annual Award is generously supported by Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust and is also supported by Breedon Group.

PHOTO by Andrew Wheatley from our forthcoming summer issue of Exmoor Magazine, which is out mid May.

EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK SUCCESS AT GEOGRAPHY AWARDS

A resource to teach A-level students about coastal management in Exmoor National Park received a Silver Award at the annual Geographic Association Publishers’ Awards ceremony held at Manchester University recently (9-11 April).

The resource challenges students to reflect on how interaction between the landscape and humans has shaped the coastline over millennia. Its focus is Porlock Bay, where 20 years ago hurricane Lili breached the 8,000 year old shingle ridge, triggering its rapid evolution into a tidal salt marsh.

The site has since become a hub for research all over the world as one of the best examples in the UK of how re-establishing natural processes can help build resilience to flooding from rising sea levels, making it an ideal project for the next generation of geographers.

Education consultant David Weatherly, who was commissioned to help develop the resource, said: “This award shows that Exmoor National Park is at the forefront of efforts to inspire the next generation about the spirit, purpose and importance of our National Parks. As the future guardians of these special landscapes, I hope it’s a lesson young people will take forward into their future lives and careers and it’s been a real privilege to be involved.”

Ben Totterdell, Education and Interpretation Manager at Exmoor National Park, said: “We welcome more than 8,000 young people a year to Exmoor for day visits and residential stays at our Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning, and many thousands more benefit from our free online teaching resources. So we know first hand the power of the outdoors to nurture a love for learning, while also building children’s confidence and ability to cope with the day-to-day stresses of life. It’s an honour to receive this award and we hope it will mean many more schools visit the National Park and are inspired to learn through its special environment.”

The award-winning resources were developed by the ‘Porlock Marsh Vision Steering Group’ formed of the two main landowners – Porlock Manor Estate and the National Trust – Porlock Parish Council, Exmoor National Park (who also funded the project) and Natural England. See: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/porlock-marsh-vision

NEW EXMOOR ACTIVITY BREAKS ON OFFER

Exmoor National Park has launched a new programme of activity breaks running from its Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning. For the first time in the centre’s 50-year history the public will be able to book a stay and participate in a range of guided outdoor activities led by professional Exmoor National Park staff and instructors.

Dan James, Exmoor National Park Authority’s’ Sustainable Economy Manager, said: “Our Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning provides a fantastic opportunity to escape the everyday and immerse yourself in the spectacular Exmoor landscape.”

“For over 50 years the centre has been offering unforgettable experiences for school groups and private hires. Now we’re opening the doors to the public. Over the course of each two-night break, you will enjoy the great outdoors, meet like-minded people, learn new skills and have great fun in one of the most remote outdoor centres in the country. Each break will be led by passionate staff and volunteers from the National Park who will provide you with an exclusive opportunity to discover what makes Exmoor special.”

Each break has its own theme offering participants a wide range of activities.

  • Family Discovery Breaks – 28th to 30th May and 2nd to 4thAugust.
    The perfect opportunity for families of all ages with a sense of adventure! Have fun as a family with outdoor activities such as orienteering, low ropes, archery, grass sledging, fire lighting and campfire. Prices from £120pp (based on a  fully occupied family room).
  • Active Exmoor Weekend – 9th to 11th August.
    The more adventurous can get moving with mountain biking, hiking, wild pond swimming and mountain boarding. Minimum age 12. Although activities are suitable for mixed abilities, all participants will need to be confident in riding a bike. £199 per person for adults, £169 children (based on a minimum of 2 to a room – discounts for higher occupancy).
  • Introduction to Moorland Heritage – 16th to 18th July.
    Join professional National Park staff to explore and learn about moorland heritage with guided walks, talks and visits. £219pp (based on 2 sharing – single supplement and discounts for higher room occupancy available).

For full details and to book your space visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/pinkery-breaks or call Katrina Munro on 01398 323665. Prices start from £120 per person (based on a family room being fully occupied) including all instruction and guiding, equipment, food and accommodation in en-suite bunk rooms.

COWBRIDGE SAWMILL OPEN WEEKEND

Cowbridge Sawmill at Timberscombe will be opening its doors for National Mills Weekend on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 May.

Records show that there was a corn mill at Cowbridge as far back as 1341. The mill prospered as a corn mill for six centuries but was converted to a sawmill in 1904. By the time last tenant retired in 1993 the building was in a derelict condition. It was in this state that Owen Rush purchased the mill – much against the advice of his friends!

Owen’s vision was of a working vintage sawmill and forge. His first task was to renovate the dwelling house closely followed by the mill. Once the structure was safe, the restoration of the machinery began.

The waterwheel was in a dilapidated state and a new shaft was shaped from an old oak tree. New water buckets were constructed and the launder rebuilt.

Volunteers with a wide range of skills and interests gradually came forward from the local community to restore the vintage machinery and install the shafts, pulleys, gears and levers necessary for the wheel to drive them.

Mr Rush has a substantial collection of historic machines, tools and artifacts for visitors to see on tours and Open Days. The working forge is now occupied by artistic blacksmith Belle Cole.

The site is a fabulous amenity for everyone who wishes to see our national heritage preserved. Volunteers are always welcome and appreciated and no particular skill is necessary. Whether or not you are mechanically minded, a visit to the mill is a fascinating step back in time. Why not visit and see the project for yourself?

Their Visitors’ Book contains many superlatives and accolades. Bearing in mind Mr Rush’s long-term vision, perhaps the most fitting comment was written by a couple from Bristol, “Mind blowing and inspiring. Thanks goodness someone is preserving our heritage.”

Cowbridge Sawmill will be open to the public on 11 and 12 May 2019 for National Mills Weekend and also on 14 and 15 September as part of the National Heritage Days. Guided tours will take place between 11am and 4.30pm and there are demonstrations of blacksmithing and woodturning throughout the day. Light refreshments are available. Parking and admission are free, but donations are much appreciated. Private tours of the mill are available by request. Further details can be found at www.cowbridgesawmill.org

EXMOOR GUIDED WALKS RETURN FOR SPRING

A series of free guided walks is now under way across Exmoor, led by an expert team of local volunteers from the Exmoor National Park Authority and The Exmoor Society. Nearly 100 walks will take place between now and October, with the addition of some new routes as well as old favourites.

The history of Exmoor’s settlements is covered in walking tours of Lynton and Lynmouth, Bossington, Porlock and Dunster, there’s insight into the Knight family’s estate in Exmoor’s former Royal hunting Forest at Simonsbath, a chance to tread in the footsteps of Saxon soldiers along the ancient Somerset Harepath (or Herepath), tales of murder at the abandoned mine of Wheal Eliza, a walk around Lorna Doone country, and a glimpse of the evolving salt marsh habitat at Porlock Marsh.

Natural history is also included, with walks discovering Exmoor’s butterflies and bats, coastal wildlife, temperate rainforests and how the heather moorlands are managed, as well as rambles looking at water quality improvement schemes and landscape restoration.

In May there will be four new walks linked to the annual Simonsbath Festival on the subjects of Exmoor during the Second World War, the rivers of the moor, the 150th Anniversary of R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, and the Exmoor home of Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace, a pioneer of computer programming.

Liz Pile, Walks Coordinator for The Exmoor Society, said: “The wonderfully diverse walks programme is only possible through the generosity of walk leaders in sharing their time, expertise and passion for Exmoor. The Society pays tribute to all those who lead walks in all weathers and in all places.”

Jess Twydall, Exmoor National Park Authority’s Get Involved Project Coordinator, commented: “Whether you’re fascinated by local history and village life, or looking for a longer moorland walk taking in the breath-taking scenery, there’s truly something for everyone.”

Walks generally last 1-4 hours and there is no charge, but donations are welcomed to ‘The Exmoor Society’ or ‘CareMoor for Exmoor’ towards keeping the National Park special.

The full programme of walks can be found on the ENPA and The Exmoor Society websites and in Exmoor Visitor magazine, which is available free at all National Park Centres and at The Exmoor Society’s Resource Centre in Dulverton, where advice can also be obtained.

PHOTO: Herepath, by Stan Lester.

RNLI ILFRACOMBE RECEIVES GRANT FROM NORTH DEVON COAST AONB

Ilfracombe Lifeboat station has an area reaching from Woolacombe in the west to Foreland Point in the east with call-outs to Lundy Island where necessary. As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it attracts many visitors throughout the year.

The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service.  The station has initiated a project over the last 12 months to support the lifeboat station to purchase additional life-saving equipment.

Jenny Carey-Wood, AONB Manager, says: “Despite the beauty of the seas and coast of North Devon they can be a challenging environment to explore and enjoy. The improved  capability from this valuable new equipment will help to save lives and we are delighted to support the RNLI’s work.”

Chris Wallis, RNLI Operations Manager for Ilfracombe, says: “The grant of £3,500 from the North Devon Coast AONB Sustainable Development Fund will be of huge benefit to the work of the RNLI Ilfracombe Lifeboat station to help us save lives at sea and will be used to purchase valuable life-saving equipment.”

PHOTO: Jenny Carey-Wood, Manager at the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), presented Chris Wallis from Ilfracombe RNLI with a cheque for £3,500 from their Sustainable Development Fund earlier this month. The presentation took place at the Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station and was attended by volunteer crew members.