EXMOOR RANGERS’ PLEA TO PROTECT WILDLIFE AS VISITORS RETURN TO MOORS

Exmoor National Park Rangers are asking people to be mindful of ground-nesting birds, baby deer and other wildlife that may have been caught out by the sudden return of visitors to the moors, following the easing of Government restrictions.

Many ground-nesting birds will have nested in spring while crowds were away, making them particularly vulnerable to disturbance now visitors, and particularly dogs, have returned.

Ranger Charlotte Wray, who also volunteers as a BTO bird surveyor, said: “It’s great to see people enjoying the outdoors once again. But with most businesses still shut and the need to social distance, we’re seeing a lot more people heading to open moorland and quieter parts of the National Park, where previously nature has been free to carry on relatively undisturbed.

“Please tread carefully and be mindful that wildlife may not have had time to adjust to the sudden influx of visitors and turn up in some unusual places, such as on or near paths. If lucky your thoughtfulness may be rewarded by some pretty amazing natural encounters.

“Ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable and known to abandon their nests if they feel threatened by predators. This includes your family dog, who in following its instincts can innocently ruin these rare birds’ chance to breed successfully.”

How to have great wildlife experience:

  • Time it right. Dawn and dusk are peak activity times for many animals, especially during the hotter summer months.
  • Keep a respectful distance. If a bird flies away, circles, makes repeated alarm calls or feigns injury, move away immediately. If an animal lingers on in one location, ask yourself why – it may have young nearby and feel extremely stressed by your continued presence. The same applies to livestock with young.
  • Stay on the paths, particularly around habitats often used by birds and other animals for nesting or shelter, such as dense heather, riverbanks or wetlands.
  • Take the lead. Curious dogs can scare ground-nesting birds and cause them to abandon their nests. By law they must be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July on open access land. Dogs should be under close control at all times near livestock.
  • Leave the BBQ at home. Moorland fires can be particularly devastating to wildlife in breeding season, so leave the BBQ at home and bring a picnic instead.
  • Take action for nature. Help us better target conservation efforts by letting us know what you see and hear while out on Exmoor at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/wild-watch.

CELEBRATING EXMOOR THROUGH THE POWER OF POETRY

The Exmoor Society has just announced the winners of its poetry competition for 2020.  The purpose of the competition is to inspire people about Exmoor, one of England’s finest landscapes, and especially poignant this year with the travel restrictions.

The judges were impressed with the standard of entries.  Rachel Thomas, The Exmoor Society Chairman, said: “I am delighted the Society is encouraging the literary traditions.  Each poem was judged anonymously and I am very grateful to the two judges, prize-winning poets themselves, who had the very difficult task of choosing the winners.”

First prize went to Terry Dyson and the judges’ commented: “Exmoor is a place of many kinds of mood. Its dramatic forms, wild weather and long distances encourage reflection. Here, the poet first conjures up the dynamic life of a specific Exmoor place at dawn and then finds that ‘Time scatters’ as past history comes tumbling – like the swallows – into the present. The past, the Second World War, is in turn vividly conjured by ‘A man preparing to leave’ – on active duty, no doubt. The endings of poems are always of particular interest. Here the poet first shows us the ‘perfect V’ of Victory and then leaves us with a great contrasting detail: the returning soldier’s ‘grinning irregular teeth’. The poem is especially timely as we remember VE Day on its 75th anniversary. Apart from its notable woodlands, North Hill is strongly associated with WWII through the important battle training carried out here.”

1st Prize: ‘North Hill’ by Terry Dyson

At first blink of light
vague haze of pink
I dream of you all as stripling oaks
branches squabbling fisticuffs
scratching low at my windowpane.

Only real sound so far      my heart
drifting home to its shell
demanding more
of your wartime spiel
spat and disorder before I was born.

Time scatters as swallows
tumble      and hefted ewes blare
to a drumming
exchange of war
rippling gun fire      fracturing air.

Did I hear your voice  –  just then?

A man preparing to leave
thumping feet
tea slurped      slosh of sugar
clank of alloy spoon
brush of bags dragged along the floor.

Sunlight splinters through, and just
when I think you’ve gone
you’re back      turning

to raise a perfect “V”
grinning irregular teeth.

Second prize was awarded to Jan Martin’s poem, of which the judges said: “Like ‘North Hill’, this poem opens out from a particular Exmoor place onto a landscape of reflection and history. However, here the time is deeper, stretching back to the ‘hidden chapel’ of a remote past, and also looking forward – or perhaps we should say ‘listening forward’ into a ‘far future’. The poem’s short lines help focus on the strong beats on important words, such as ‘the rocks and crags / of our faces’, a bold shift from the outer landscape of rugged Exmoor to the close-up anatomy of an ageing individual. The poem produces a lulling rhythm suitable to the convincing image at its close, in which ‘the wind / from a far future blows quiet songs’. The active verb ‘blows’ is especially well-chosen here.

2nd Prize: ‘Porlock Weir’ by Jan Martin

Where the land falls
into brown sea,
and stones rattle under the surf
like rounds of applause,
there’s a history
that’s invisible and alive
in scorching wind,
or gray stillness tracked
by unbearably sweet birdsong
and the crack of guns.

There’s a haunted wood and
a hidden chapel that draws us up,
and dense silence settling like fog
softens our outlines
and soothes our horizons
into dreams of another life,
where our stories can embrace
all the rocks and crags
of our faces, and the wind
from a far future blows quiet songs.

Of the third-prize-winning poem by Richard Westcott, the judges commented: “Exmoor is a place of literary pilgrimage, as we have been reminded often in the year in which the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth is being celebrated. As well as Coleridge and Shelley, other – later – artistic talents are deeply associated with Exmoor and one of them particularly, Hope Bourne, with the site of this poem. The poet celebrates not only a remarkable artistic personality, but also the wildness of Exmoor – and finds a way to blend the two.”

3rd Prize: ‘In a Storm on Ferny Ball’ by Richard Westcott

Bright beech branches bend in the wind –
fragments flying.  I turn from the west,
rain on my back, clothes stuck close.

Was that the protesting movement of trees
or something different – a reminder
of someone shuffling then sliding
through the loosened-up, torn-apart hedge?

Crooked and trunk-twisted, bent like a tree
the vision continues to vanish –
washed away in the rain, as if wishing
to be somewhere else.  No shelter or company
anywhere here, just sharp surgings,
straight-ahead rain – the prevails of a gale,
such as she would know only too well.

Struck on the neck by a stick in the wind
I spin round, feeling a summons
to face all these forces. Part deafened,
face streaming, I find my thoughts
scattered like leaves. Nothing is
tamed. Here this is wildness where
the loosened is freed and freed are caught.

Who would be out in a place like this
on a day such as this, unless fleeing
from home and from others, with a wish
to be elsewhere? She’s slipping past green trunks
of bent-over beech, whose branches are waving
at a dwindling figure now blown away
by this westerly, and storm-distorted senses.

The three winning poems are on The Exmoor Society’s website and will be published in the 2021 edition of the Exmoor Review, the Society’s annual journal.  There are also plans to collate a selection of the competition entries from the last few years into an anthology of Exmoor poems.

Top: The track from Ferny Ball – Hope Bourne © The Exmoor Society

RETURN OF LYNMOUTH BRIDGE ‘WILL BRING JOY FOR YEARS TO COME’

Those missing Exmoor can look forward to a walk across the newly reinstated Woodside Bridge in the National Park’s stunning East Lyn Valley once government restrictions lift.

Contractors working with the National Park’s Ranger and Field Services teams finally craned the long-awaited bridge into place yesterday on Monday 4 May, paid for by the community following a £65K fundraising drive led by the Lyn Community Development Trust in partnership with the National Park’s CareMoor for Exmoor scheme.

The new 18m bridge is built with Exmoor oak sourced sustainably from the National Park’s own woodlands, milled locally by Wedgewood Construction and designed and installed by leading footbridge specialists, CTS Bridges, in partnership with Avon Construction.

It was assembled on site and special groundworks were undertaken to allow access for the new bridge to be craned onto the abutments of the former bridge. All this took place under strict Government Covid-19 guidelines to ensure worker and public safety.

Exmoor National Park Access and Recreation Manager Dan Barnett, who has overseen the project from start to finish, said: “This is an incredibly proud moment for the whole team at the National Park, many of whom have contributed to the success of this project. With its durable design, this latest bridge is built to last and will undoubtedly be a source of joy to all those who visit this beautiful area for many years to come.

“Getting the job done while coronavirus restrictions are in place has been no mean feat. But although people will have to wait a while longer before visiting, they do say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and we are pleased to have given them something worth the wait.”

The route, which meanders along the beautiful tree-lined banks of the East Lyn River and featured in Julia Bradbury’s hit TV series Britain’s Best Walks, has long been a favourite of locals and visitors to the busy harbour town. It allows walkers to enjoy a gentle circular walk returning via Middleham Memorial Gardens planted in memory of victims of the notorious 1952 flood, which decimated much of Lynmouth. It will remain closed for another few weeks while work to finish construction of the new bridge and upgrade the path is completed.

Suzette Hibbert, Lyn Community Development Trust Trustee and Deputy Mayor of Lynmouth, commented:  “To say I am delighted to see the bridge back in place is an understatement. The generosity of our community and our visitors, the work of our volunteers and the unwavering support and expertise of the National Park Authority, has made it possible for the trustees of the Lyn Community Development Trust to see through the successful outcome of this project. Thank you to all involved.”

SCHOOLS AND NATIONAL PARK RANGERS THINK INSIDE THE BOX TO FEED FAMILIES

Remote households in the wilds of Exmoor are getting vital food supplies delivered to their door during the coronavirus emergency thanks to some innovative teamwork.

The Moorland Federation of Schools is working with Exmoor National Park Authority to help those families who live miles from any supermarket – with teachers joining forces with National Park Rangers to make it happen.

Staff from the federation’s schools – Exford, Cutcombe, Dunster, St Dubricius and Timberscombe – are making up and delivering food boxes to families containing essentials such as soup, bread, potatoes, beans, pasta, cheese, milk, eggs and tinned food, and thanks to the Rangers they’re getting the deliveries to the most remote households.

The pilot food box scheme, aimed at helping schoolchildren eligible for free school meals, is set to be rolled out across Somerset soon.

Somerset County Council will be offering a food box scheme to its schools as an alternative to the e-voucher because for some families getting to shops is not easy especially in rural areas.

The Federation is providing school places for key workers and vulnerable children at its Dunster site, which also has its own kitchen.

Staff there have been making up the vital food boxes.

Dunster School Head Teacher Naomi Philp said it was a “privilege” to help, adding: “Schools are the heart of communities, we have to do all we can, we have to be innovative, creative and determined to find solutions.

“When you see how pleased people are to receive something, or you make the provision hours fit for an NHS worker, or you hear the relief when you simply say ‘yep, we can help with that’, it makes it all worthwhile.

“I have truly incredible teams who rise to the challenge, without them we couldn’t make it work.  A huge thank you to our staff and to our additional team members, our coaches from Number1West Somerset and to James Howarth from Kilve Court.”

Charlotte Wray, Exmoor National Park Ranger, said: “The work of the Ranger team has inescapably shifted away from the usual day job and we are doing what we can to help out in the community.

“The National Park Authority has offered support to local agencies and when Dunster School approached us about helping deliver free school meals to children, we were happy to help. As the crisis deepens support like this will be even more vital to ensure the needs of vulnerable residents and those in self-isolation are met.

“Many local groups are emerging to help co-ordinate efforts and it’s great to see everyone pulling together to support each other.”

Meanwhile Naomi’s colleague, Head Teacher Chris Blazey from St Dubricious school, drove 140 miles to collect food from a food charity to be distributed across West Somerset.

The local youth club Minehead Eye, has been repurposed as a sorting station and local charities including Home start, and Citizens Advice working with the food bank and Village Agents are ensuring the food reaches those that need it most.

For more information on schools, education and services and support across Somerset during the current coronavirus emergency visit here www.somerset.gov.uk/coronavirus/