Category Archives: Exmoor National Park news

‘THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING OUR PLACE OF WORK’ SAY EXMOOR FARMERS

Ahead of the Easter weekend, Exmoor National Park Authority along with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network is reminding people to stay close to home during the coronavirus pandemic and to take extra care when exercising on public rights of way that pass near farms or homes.

Dave Knight, Chairman of the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, said: “Spring is always a busy time on the farm with lambing and calving. Farmers are literally working around the clock to help feed the nation and it’s understandable they don’t want the extra worry of contamination to gates and property. Ultimately this is our place of work so I’m pleased that most people are being respectful of that by using alternative routes where possible and sticking to government guidelines.”

Some farmers and residents have voiced concerns about increased use of public rights of way by local people following the lockdown restrictions. In response the National Park has produced an easily downloadable poster on their website that can be displayed to remind people of the Coronavirus Countryside Code:

  1. Use open spaces near where you live.
  2. Stay least 2 metres away from other people.
  3. Avoid touching shared surfaces and clean hands regularly.
  4. Leave gates as you find them.
  5. Keep dogs under close control (at heel or on a lead).

Defra advice is that risk of the coronavirus being passed on to others from people using public rights of way is very low if they follow these simple steps.

Exmoor National Park Authority Chairman, Robin Milton, farms sheep and cattle with his son near Dulverton. He said: “We ask local people to remember that many of the rights of way, paths, gates and stiles they might encounter on Exmoor are on farmers’ land and near their homes, where they are carrying out essential work.

“Whilst exercising is essential for physical and mental wellbeing, I ask everyone to respect the ban on non-essential travel and wherever possible to seek routes away from rural homes and farms when using local paths.

“By taking these simple steps, we are all doing our bit to protect our brave NHS workers and save lives.”

The law in England does not allow the National Park Authority to close any part of the public rights of way network for COVID-19 reasons. But anyone with concerns about public access can contact the National Park’s Ranger team for advice at info@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or 01398 323665.

For further information about safe rights of way use or to download the poster see: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/out-and-about-essentials.

ENPA SAYS, “THANK YOU FOR STAYING AT HOME”

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

Exmoor National Park was a much quieter place at the weekend following updated Government coronavirus guidelines stating that people should stay local and use green spaces near their home.

Teams from Avon & Somerset and Devon & Cornwall police backed by National Park Rangers worked together to reinforce the message that the public should stay at home and not travel to countryside beauty spots for exercise or any other non-essential reason.

The response follows extraordinarily high numbers of visitors across the UK’s 15 national parks last weekend, triggering concern that people travelling to them en masse could spread the virus.

Dan Barnett, Access & Recreation Manager, said: “We’re extremely grateful to everyone for foregoing their visits to the National Park over the weekend and until restrictions lift. The importance of these places for people’s health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated and we fully appreciate the sacrifice many are making to protect fellow citizens.”

The Government have been clear that public rights of way should remain open for local people to exercise. Anyone accessing the countryside from their own home must keep at least 2 metres apart from other people, sanitise hands regularly and wash them on return.  Dogs should be kept under close control, on a short lead or at heel.

The law in England does not allow the National Park Authority to close any part of the public rights of way network for COVID-19 reasons. Anyone with concerns about public access can contact the National Park’s Ranger team for advice at info@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or 01398 323665.

Dan Barnett added: “Public rights of way that cross working farms or are close to people’s homes can cause concern for those self-isolating there due to age or ill-health. This is understandable and we ask that people are extra vigilant with their hygiene in these areas. As always spring is lambing time for many of our farmers, so please take care to close gates behind you and always keep dogs on a lead near livestock or moorland where birds may be nesting.”

The National Park Authority are only available to inspect rights of way where there are emergency or safety issues at this time.  Issues can be logged online at Explore Somerset (roam.somerset.gov.uk/roam/map) or by contacting the National Park’s Ranger team. For up-to-date Rights of Way advice see: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/out-and-about-essentials.

DEFRA SEEKS NEW BOARD MEMBERS FOR EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are seeking to fill 3 vacancies on the board of Exmoor National Park Authority as part of a nationwide recruitment drive.

Of the 22 Members who make up Exmoor National Park Authority, 10 (including 5 nominated by Parish Councils) are appointed by the Secretary of State for Defra and 12 by local councils with land in the National Park. The new appointments are expected to commence in July.

Speaking about recruitment across a number of National Park Authorities in England, Defra minister Lord Gardiner said: “I am looking for a diverse group of passionate and committed individuals who want to help shape the strategic direction of our National Park Authorities. As a Secretary of State appointed Member, you will have the opportunity to help conserve and enhance our most treasured landscapes now and for future generations.

“I welcome applications from people who have a clear understanding of land management and rural communities, as well as protection and enhancement of the environment. Applications are also encouraged from people with experience in planning, commercial and business leadership, communications and stakeholder outreach.”

Committee meetings take place in Dulverton up to 12 times a year, with many opportunities for Members to further contribute to the work of the organisation according to their own interests and skill set. A basic allowance and expenses are available if needed to help cover costs.

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Members play an instrumental part in shaping the future direction of the National Park, helping us fulfil our statutory purposes and achieve the delicate balance between people and nature that makes our landscapes so special. We warmly encourage anyone with the right skills and experience to apply for this hugely rewarding role.”

The closing date for applications is Friday 6 March at midday. Full details of how to apply are available on the Cabinet Office* website.

Photo: South West Coast Path Exmoor by Jim Johnston @jjohnstonphoto

NEW SCHEME URGES SHOPPERS TO BUY LOCAL

A new initiative to highlight the merits of buying local has been launched in Exmoor National Park. The National Park Authority and Visit Exmoor are working together to support local producers and promote how the fine produce sustainably grown, reared and prepared within Greater Exmoor benefits the landscape and its communities.

Signs making it easier for shoppers to identify local produce are being proudly displayed in stores to shine a light on the region’s producers and how buying local benefits the environment, while delivering food that is more tasty, nutritious and sustainable.

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Despite their wild appearance, Exmoor’s landscapes have been shaped by human interaction with nature over thousands of years. Many local producers here are small-scale farmers championing low-impact approaches that work with, not against nature. Much of the livestock is grass-fed, making our local lamb and beef tastier and healthier, as well as more sustainable. With fewer food miles and in turn less packaging, switching to local produce can help reduce your carbon and plastic footprint, whilst supporting our rural communities.”

The Exmoor Hill Farming Network, Edible Exmoor (www.edibleexmoor.co.uk) plus numerous local shops and retailers have already got behind the campaign, with Wheddon Cross Central Convenience Store and Roadwater Community Shop among the first to display the new branding.

Tony Howard, proprietor of The Village Shop and Tea Rooms at Withypool, said: “We’re delighted to be able to support this initiative by the National Park. As well as selling to those visiting the area, we have a strong and loyal customer base who are always pleased to support local producers, but more can be done, and highlighting Exmoor produce in this way is a step in the right direction.”

Sarah Campbell at Timberscombe Post Office and Store (pictured) said: “There’s already been a really positive response to the new promotional material in our shop. I’m sure it will make our customers think carefully and more likely to choose local produce.”

In December, grass-fed Exmoor lamb was the winner at blind-tasting event at Woods restaurant in Dulverton. Emma Thomasson from Visit Exmoor, who supported the event, said: “When visitors come to the area, experiencing the finest seasonal food and drink can be a big part of their cultural adventure, connecting them with the landscape they see around them and helping create memorable experiences.

“Joining the dots of where our food comes from is an important way of deepening people’s understanding and kindling a life-long love of the area sure to keep them returning. With locally-produced meats, fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, artisan breads, sweet treat confectionery and award-winning gin and cider all on offer, it’s not hard to see why!”

The ‘Produced in Exmoor’ campaign is part of the wider #EatExmoor project, which aims to support producers, build strong commercial relationships between producers and local businesses and help boost Exmoor’s reputation as a great food destination. Find out more at: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/eat-exmoor

MERLIN HELICOPTERS HELP MEND OUR MOUNTAINS

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.

PIONEERING FEMALE MATHEMATICIAN’S FORGOTTEN LEGACY AND PORLOCK’S INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY ON 5 OCTOBER

It will soon be possible to walk in the footsteps of  nineteenth-century computer pioneer Ada Lovelace when visiting Exmoor National Park, as work has begun this month to restore and reveal parts of the historic carriage routes, viewpoints and other features that formed part of her former Porlock estate.

It is while walking the terraces of these once ornate gardens that Ada and the famous mathematician Charles Babbage were reputed to have come up with the principles behind the ‘Difference Engine’ – a forerunner to the computer.

The National Park Authority now plans to restore parts of the old carriage ways and other surviving features in Culbone wood, granting walkers on the South West Coast Path a taste of the sense of awe that must have been felt upon emerging from historic tunnels into breathtaking views out to sea, framed by groves of giant redwoods and firs.

The effect was created by Ada Lovelace and her husband, William King, as part of a Picturesque designed landscape inspired by the fashion at the time to try and capture the beauty of nature by design. Exmoor National Park Authority are also undertaking a detailed survey to identify if any of the original trees planted by Ada and William survive.

Graeme McVittie, Exmoor National Park’s Senior Woodland Officer, said: “Woodland walks carefully planted with native and exotic species to maximise dramatic effect, long, mysterious tunnels set to build anticipation ahead of awe-inspiring views and the remnants of meandering old carriage ways designed to show off the best of the coastal views are all part of this estate’s forgotten legacy.

“The principles of the early-nineteenth-century Picturesque movement were to create views or pictures into the natural world. And now we are simply trying to create a picture into their world, and the passions and inspirations that lay behind Ada’s genius.”

On 5 October Porlock will also be holding their annual “Cream Tea with Inspirational Women” in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, held annually in honour of the achievements of women in science all over the world. The ticketed event held at Porlock Village Hall sees five women, from the worlds of art, travel, film, education and theatre, share their passions, achievements and inspirations, with this year’s speakers billed as Molly Rooke, Hilary Bradt, Lynn Pearson, Jane Keeley and Sarah Peterkin. Information and tickets are available from Porlock Village Hall (01643 863117).

Rosalinde Haw, who is organising the event, said: “We celebrate Ada for her connection to the landscape and the inspiration she brought to all women, at a time when the very idea of a female mathematician was often viewed as distasteful. Join us this October to hear from today’s inspirational women and how their passions have helped drive them to success.”

HEDGELAYING SKILLS REWARDED

The important work of Exmoor’s hedgelayers has once again been recognised and rewarded through the Exmoor Hedge Competition.

Peter Smith received first place and the ‘Mary Stacey Trophy’ (locally made using beech wood from a laid Exmoor hedge), which was kindly donated by the late Mrs Stacey of Foxhanger Farm, Brompton Regis.  As winner, Peter is also invited to join the judges in deciding the winners of next year’s competition.

Well-laid hedges store more carbon, harbour more wildlife and provide a range of environmental benefits that far outstrip any other method of boundary management. They are also key to the National Park’s landscape, wildlife and farming history and provide employment for numerous skilled craftspeople during the winter months.

In recognition of this valuable work, Exmoor National Park Authority launched the Exmoor Hedge Competition in partnership with the Devon and Somerset Hedge Groups, together with the generous support and sponsorship of the Exmoor Trust.

Susan May, Chairman of the Exmoor Trust, and Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, presented the prizes of up to £200 to the winning hedgelayers. First Place in the Open Class was Peter Smith, who laid the hedge for Timothy and Sally Stevens of Summerings Farm, near Wheddon Cross. Second prize went to Gary Atkins, who laid one of the hedges belonging to Shiamala Comer at Ashott Barton Farm, Exford. In third place was a hedge belonging to Robert Kilvington of Parsonage Farm, Hawkridge, whose hedge was laid by Adam Tarr of Lower Hunstone.

Heather Harley, Conservation Officer (Farming & Land Management) for Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “We’re extremely grateful to the Exmoor Trust and the Devon and Somerset Hedge Groups for supporting this competition. This traditional skill is so important to the wildlife and landscape of the National Park and an integral part of the rural community.

“Agri-environment support for hedge management has changed dramatically over recent years and the future of hedge management on Exmoor is not certain. I hope that this competition goes a little way to promote the work of these craftspeople.”

Susan May, Chairman of the Exmoor Trust, said: “The Exmoor Trust is very pleased to continue to sponsor the Exmoor Hedge Competition and to support this very important rural skill.  Exmoor would not look like it does today if it were not for these skilled hedge-layers. With uncertain times ahead for agriculture, management of the land and hedgerows becomes ever more important.”

Those looking to develop their hedge-laying skills may be interested in the one-day introductory courses being offered in the Quantocks this autumn, organised by Somerset Hedge Group (£25 per person). See www.fwagsw.org.uk/Pages/Events/Category/events-and-workshops.

For more information about the competition, grants for hedge management or farming and wildlife advice, contact Heather on 01398 322277 or hjharley@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk

HISTORIC BUILDINGS FESTIVAL AND PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPETITION

Exmoor’s first ever Historic Buildings Festival is due to kick off this month, with a week of events celebrating the National Park’s impressive array of buildings from throughout the ages.

From 16-22 September, a wide range of expert walks, talks and practical demonstrations will be on offer celebrating this cultural heritage. Guest speakers and skilled craftspeople will shed light on how and why these structures came to be and what they can teach us about how our ancestors lived and worked. The Festival forms part of Heritage Open Days*, when places right across the country throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history.

The week of largely free events will begin with an open day to see conservation in action in Simonsbath’s Ashcombe Gardens, where a project is underway to restore and uncover the story behind a Picturesque garden and the unusual Scottish croft-house that formed part of it. This is the first time the public will have an opportunity to go inside the buildings since restoration works began, and the first time they have been without scaffolding for many years.

Find out the story of Lynton and Lynmouth’s famous cliff railway and walk in the footsteps of computer pioneer Ada Lovelace to discover the extensive network of intriguing paths, viewpoints and tunnels found on her former Porlock estate. Get an exclusive tour of medieval buildings in Dunster as part of a project to trace and record the town’s early history and take part in a convoy of military vehicles on route to the former secret Second World War radar station and tank training grounds found on Minehead’s North Hill.

Festival organiser Thomas Thurlow, Exmoor National Park Authority’s Historic Buildings Officer, said: “Whether it’s the medieval hall houses of Dunster, the late Georgian Scottish croft-style buildings of Simonsbath, or the industrial structures of the West Somerset Mineral Line, all these buildings have a story to tell and have helped shape the landscape we see today. There are so many historic treasures to be found on Exmoor if you know where to look and we can’t wait to showcase these amazing buildings.”

The full programme of events can be found on the Exmoor National Park Authority website at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/historicbuildingsfestival and is available in printed form free from National Park Centres in Lynmouth, Dunster and Dulverton.

People may also wish to take part in the Exmoor Society photographic competition, which this year includes a historic buildings category (the closing date is 30 September). Find out more at www.exmoorsociety.com/content/news/alfred-vowles-photographic-competition-2

PHOTO: White Rock Cottage in Simonsbath seen without scaffolding for the first time in decades.

EXMOOR DARK SKIES FESTIVAL PROGRAMME

Over 50 events in celebration of Exmoor’s spectacular starry skies are set to take place across the National Park this autumn, as bookings open for the region’s third annual Dark Skies Festival.

From 14 October to 3 November, venues across the National Park will take advantage of its status as one of three designated International Dark Skies Reserves in the country, to host a range of experiences inspired by the wonders of the night sky.

Following many sell-out events during the first two years, the Festival will this year span three weeks, covering the half term breaks for both Devon and Somerset as well as some quieter spells when the children are back to school.

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The tranquillity and stunning landscapes of Exmoor make it the perfect place to walk, stargaze and take a break from the bustle of busy modern lives and we hope that through the Festival many more people will discover the magic of its night skies.”

The Festival caters for a wide range of ages and interests, with highlights for families including this year’s Astro Party at Wimbleball Lake, a 360-degree planetarium experience in Dunster, Bampton or Barnstaple, or the National Park’s first ever Dark Skies Big Adventure with the National Trust.

Wildlife lovers may wish to partake in a guided starlit walk or dusk safari, ending with warming local produce supper or hot chocolate and marshmallows. Meanwhile, the more adventurous might enjoy night mountain biking or a guided walk with an Exmoor National Park Ranger to see the Orionids meteor shower in peak flow.

Foodies will find countless opportunities to indulge in delicious astronomy-inspired suppers married with expert talks and stargazing.

And not forgetting astronomy enthusiasts, who will be spoilt for choice with guided stargazing opportunities, talks on choosing the right telescope or the latest astronomy apps, plus the chance to hone astrophotography skills.

This year children up to 16 years can also enter an Exmoor dark skies-inspired story writing competition, with the winner getting a free astronomy and space workshop for their school, hosted by Jo Richardson of Somerset-based company ‘Space Detectives’.

Katrina Munro of Exmoor National Park Authority coordinates the festival, which is sponsored by rural broadband providers Airband UK. She said: “Many people have never experienced what it’s like to look up into a truly dark sky, see the thousands of stars and feel that inevitable sense of wonder. Exmoor tourism businesses, farms and organisations including the National Trust, Forestry England, South West Lakes Trust and Exmoor Pony Centre have all teamed up with the National Park to ensure there’s something for everyone throughout the three-week festival period.

“We have such a variety of great places to stay, many within the darkest areas of the National Park, but all within easy access of the various events. Events can all be booked separately, allowing people to pick and choose those that interest them most.”

The full programme of events is available at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival or from National Park Centres at Dulverton, Dunster or Lynmouth. Details of places to stay are included and further accommodation can be found at www.visit-exmoor.co.uk . For more information phone the Lynmouth National Park Centre on 01598 752509, open 7 days a week.

PHOTO: Dark Skies over Exmoor by Peter Hendrie.

COMMUNITIES CASH IN WITH GRANTS FOR SHOPPING AND SAILING ON EXMOOR

Exmoor National Park has invested in a community shop and an accessible sailing boat with the latest grants from the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund. Roadwater Community Shop and Wimbleball Sailability have both been awarded funding of up to £2,500 in support of projects helping Exmoor communities thrive and opening up fresh opportunities for people to experience the National Park.

Wimbleball Sailability has offered sailing experiences for disabled people at Wimbleball Lake on Exmoor for over 30 years. The new funding will help towards the purchase of a new eight-seater sailing boat, ensuring many more people can experience the thrill of a day out on the water.

David Mather, who helps run the programme, said: “Disabled people from across Somerset and North Devon, including many care-home residents, regularly enjoy sailing trips with the help of our dedicated team of volunteers. Thanks to this funding we look forward to introducing many more people from the disabled community to Exmoor and the opportunities that exist to enjoy the freedom and fun of sailing.”

The funding will also help pay for a community hub and information point for the National Park within Roadwater Community Shop & Post Office, as part of work to upgrade and extend the existing building, which is run with the support of more than 60 volunteers.

Shop volunteer Robert Wetheridge said: “Since the village took over ownership and running of the shop last year, officers at Exmoor National Park have supported us in countless ways – through their Partnership Fund, planning advice, community project planning fee reimbursement and advice on access to Carbon Reduction funding that has paid for installation of a small solar panel.

“Once complete the building upgrade will increase accessibility to all, provide a small cafe and community hub area, plus an outdoor patio with a view over the village hall recreation ground and swings. We all have our fingers crossed that construction can begin in early autumn and are so grateful for all the ongoing support.”

Philip Kiberd, Funding Officer at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “These two projects show how a relatively small contribution of up to £2,500 can make a real difference to those living in the National Park or coming to enjoy what it has to offer. We’re particularly looking for projects that can enhance the landscape, help nature, investigate heritage or introduce new people to the National Park and would love to hear from anyone with a great idea.”

You can apply to the Partnership Fund Small Grants scheme at any time. Funding decisions are made around four times a year with the next due in the autumn. Apply at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/partnership-fund or for friendly advice contact the Funding Officer on 01398 322237 or by emailing partnershipfund@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.