Two Merlin MK3 Helicopters from the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) have been working high up on Exmoor despite challenging weather conditions. The trainee pilots and aircrewmen from CHF’s 846 Naval Air Squadron and Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT) have been helping National Park Rangers shift 80 tonnes of crushed stone along a 2km stretch of the Tarka Trail in North Devon that had become badly eroded.
It’s part of a training exercise that forms the final stage before these pilots and aircrewmen get their ‘wings’ and are signed off as fully operational pilots ready for frontline duties.
The repair work that will now follow has been made possible through the British Mountaineering Council (BMC)’s Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign, which has been raising money for vital path repair works throughout the family of 15 UK National Parks.
The project will resurface sections of a bridleway that forms part of the Tarka Trail, popular with walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers for its sense of remoteness and panoramic views. The route is naturally very wet and has become eroded, with instances of having to close the path to avoid horses becoming stuck and diverting users onto other fragile routes.
Not far from the site is the National Park’s Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Learning, which provides around 9,000 schoolchildren a year with a taste of life off-grid in the National Park and frequently uses the trail. It is also in the heart of its International Dark Sky Reserve amid pristine starry skies.
Dan Barnett, Exmoor National Park’s Access and Recreation Manager, said: “The area of ‘The Chains’ where this work is happening lies above 1,500 feet and, before 846 Naval Air Squadron stepped in, we had no way of getting such a quantity of stone up there. So it’s great they have been able to help us as part of their training exercise and that Mend Our Mountains has provided the funding for this project.
“This ancient site has long been home to our iconic Red Deer and ponies, and is littered with signs of Neolithic man, and with the backing of these two partners we’re pleased to be able to secure safe passage for another generation.”
Commander Ed Vaughan RN, Commanding Officer 846 NAS said: “Injecting real life tasks into flying training and the development of aircrews is invaluable. It cannot be replicated in routine training and the variable, quick-changing weather on the moor adds a significant dimension to testing competencies and capabilities. Working with and alongside the National Park is something that the Squadron looks forward to, especially as we are able to contribute something to the region in which we also live and train.”
The work is expected to continue next month, weather permitting.