Category Archives: Exmoor National Park news

Fans of Exmoor encouraged to share their love on ‘Exmoor Day’

Monday 19 October is #ExmoorDay – a chance to celebrate all that Exmoor National Park offers to the nation and the world. Exmoor National Park boasts inspiring landscapes, thriving communities, incredible wildlife, enterprising businesses, and a rich cultural heritage stemming back centuries.

Exmoor National Park came into being on 19 October 1954 when the Designation Order made by the National Parks Commission was confirmed by the Minister for Housing and Local Government – Harold Macmillan – making it the UK’s 8th National Park.

Home to just under 10,000 residents, the National Park attracts in excess of 2 million visitor days a year and is home to well over 1,000 local businesses. Ancient woodlands and heather-clad moorlands provide important habitats for all kinds of creatures, including iconic free-living Exmoor ponies and the largest population of Red deer in England, alongside rare butterflies, bats, wildflowers, fungi and lichen. At night Exmoor comes alive under some of the darkest skies in the country offering unrivalled opportunities to see thousands of stars above.

Exmoor Day has come about as part of a co-ordinated tourism recovery plan put together by partners to help counter the impacts of Covid-19. This year it will primarily be a virtual event on social media, with people sharing what they love about Exmoor and promoting their Exmoor-based products. On the day you can follow the #ExmoorDay hashtag to join in and local communities, businesses and fans are all invited to take part by celebrating Exmoor in their own style.

Fans of Exmoor near and far are also being invited to send in short films of themselves saying why they love Exmoor as part of a film that will be shared online and through social media on the day. For a chance to be part of it, take a short video (in landscape orientation) of you briefly stating why you love Exmoor / what you most love about Exmoor (ideally no more than 5-10 seconds) on a smartphone and send your video recording via WeTransfer to Katrina at KJMunro@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk, by 12 October at the latest.

Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager, said: “The last six months have really demonstrated what a special place Exmoor is, with thousands flocking to the area for the wonderful sense of wellbeing and freedom that comes with spending time outdoors in our beautiful National Parks.

“At the same time the economic impact has been hard felt on Exmoor, with tourism and hospitality accounting for two thirds of employment. Local communities have pulled together and demonstrated the great spirit of Exmoor, and Exmoor Day offers us a chance to continue that recovery process. Whether you are a visitor sharing your favourite Exmoor experience, a business promoting your links to Exmoor or a community celebrating the place you live, we’d really love you to join us in sharing all that is good about Exmoor.”

For further details about the film, planned virtual activities and opportunities to get involved visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.co.uk/exmoor-day or contact Katrina Munro, Economy Project Officer KJMunro@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.

PHOTO: By John Spurr from the winter issue of Exmoor Magazine, due out in November.

 

EXMOOR DARK SKIES FESTIVAL PREPARES FOR LIFT-OFF

Exmoor National Park’s popular Dark Skies Festival is set to go ahead this October (16th-31st) as businesses across the region prepare to deliver a host of ‘Covid-friendly’ events in celebration of the region’s spectacular starry night skies.

With so many festivals and other occasions off the cards this year, it’s hoped the celebration – organised by Exmoor National Park Authority – will provide a much-needed boost to the local economy and a fresh way of enjoying the stunning beauty of the area at a traditionally less-busy time of year, and day.

Ranger-guided night walks, stargazing suppers, dusk safaris and expert astronomy talks are among the many events planned, along with some brand-new experiences such as Dark Sky Boat Adventures and Well-Being Retreats under the stars. All have been thoroughly risk-assessed to ensure they can be enjoyed safely, with advanced booking a requirement for all events due to limits on group sizes and makeup.

Katrina Munro, who coordinates the festival for Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The Festival celebrates our designation as an International Dark Sky Reserve and we’re proud to have by far some of the lowest levels of light pollution and darkest skies in the country. With the help of our dedicated National Park Rangers, staff and local businesses, we’ve done some re-thinking and careful planning, with all working hard to ensure every precautionary measure is in place for the Festival to run as safely as possible. For some this will mean a much more exclusive experience, shared only among select family and friends of your choosing, making it extra special for those lucky enough to get tickets.”

Jennie Wild from Exford-based business Wild about Exmoor has been running stargazing experiences for several years and has recently adapted her business model. “Recently we’ve started taking small groups out on the moor for private stargazing adventures and the response has been amazing. During such difficult times it’s incredible what a little time under a magical star-lit sky like Exmoor’s can do for the soul. From the response we’ve been getting its clear people so need that right now -an unforgettable experience for all ages.”

For those who would rather help celebrate the National Park’s dark skies from home, there will also be on-line events focused on stargazing, nocturnal wildlife and the importance of dark skies. Follow #ExmoorDSF on social media for updates or sign up to Exmoor National Park’s Dark Skies newsletter on their website.

The Festival events programme and booking information can be found at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival, where there are also details of this year’s Festival competition themed on ‘Exmoor at Night Photography and Astrophotography’. The competition is supported by local businesses including Exmoor Magazine, Wicked Wold Gin and Miles Tea and Coffee, along with Astronomy Now magazine and Celestron telescopes. There are four categories, under 16 and 16+ age classes, with a range of fantastic astronomy-themed prizes on offer, including the chance to see your photos featured in several of the region’s glossy magazines.

Photo credit: Richard Presley, Dark Skies Over Dunkery Beacon.

NATURE LOVERS CHALK UP OVER 2,000 SIGHTINGS IN SUPPORT OF EXMOOR CONSERVATION PROJECTS

Over 2,000 plant and wildlife observations have been recorded online by members of the public in response to a plea from Exmoor National Park Authority to help rescue vital conservation projects that have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown through volunteers being unable to carry out their usual monitoring. People were asked to help by joining the National Park’s WildWatch project on iNaturalist and using the app to log any sightings while out on Exmoor.

To date this has resulted in 227 people logging 2,024 observations of 818 different species on the platform. A further 417 people, including professional botanists and National Park conservation volunteers, got involved in helping verify the sightings to get the data up to a standard where it could be used to inform conservation efforts, such as problem invasive species in the National Park.

In a video shared on social media to thank contributors, Exmoor National Park Outreach Officer Patrick Watts-Mabbott, said: “We’ve had an amazing response to our ‘Exmoor Wildwatch’ and ‘Exmoor from Home’ projects on iNaturalist.”

Top sightings include Eye Bright (top), an ancient herbal remedy with anti-inflammatory properties, and the charmingly named Dog Vomit Slime Mold (here) – single-celled amoeba-like organisms that come together to form fungi-like sporing masses.

Patrick added: “I could talk about the amazing orchids, minotaur beetles, moss, grasshoppers, birds, butterflies, reptiles and even butterfly eggs that have been spotted. But as we are on Exmoor we’d better look at the iconic bell heather that is just starting to bloom. By mid-August places like Brendon Common, Dunkery Beacon and Winsford Hill, will be purple and buzzing with bees.

“So if you’re planning a visit to Exmoor this year, download the iNaturalist app from the usual places and search the projects for ‘Exmoor Wildwatch’. Then get recording. There’s no need to know everything you find, just get some good photos, ideally from different angles, and upload them. Our volunteers will help you identify them.”

Free wildlife spotter guides are from National Park Centres in Lynmouth, Dunster and Dulverton or online at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/exmoor-wildwatch.

Top photo: Eye Bright. Both photos by janexmoor.

EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK AUTHORITY RESPONSE TO PM’S ANNOUNCEMENT

In response to yesterday’s (Tuesday) announcement from the Prime Minister that significant parts of the hospitality and tourism sectors can begin reopening from 4 July, Dan James, Exmoor National Park Authority’s Sustainable Economy Manager, said: “Tourism is by far the single largest part of Exmoor’s economy, contributing almost £130m a year. So it’s encouraging that the Government is advising it will soon be safe for people to come here on holiday and enjoy its many pubs, cafes and attractions once again. There is the added pressure that many farmers have also diversified into tourism, meaning the picture-postcard landscape of hilltop farms and heather moorland for which Exmoor is so famous is also inextricably linked to tourists’ return.

“National Parks were created to inspire people and we know that Exmoor holds a very dear place in many people’s hearts, whilst others are now being inspired to visit for the first-time following lockdown. We would ask those considering trips to plan ahead and follow government and local guidelines, including the updated Covid Countryside code. Our National Park Centres will have all reopened by 4 July to offer advice and information to help people explore Exmoor safely, responsibly and enjoyably.

“Our tourism businesses together provide around 2,300 full-time jobs – 60 per cent of employment locally – and throughout the pandemic we’ve been working hard to help them plan their recovery. We know many are going the extra mile to put people’s minds at rest and make things as safe as possible, but it goes without saying that local communities coming together to support each other is what’s getting people through, and on Exmoor that feeling has never been stronger.”

PHOTO by Jane Mares.

CALL FOR CITIZEN SCIENTISTS TO HELP KEEP VITAL CONSERVATION PROJECTS ON TRACK

Exmoor National Park is calling on people to help rescue conservation projects that have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown, by reporting sightings of important plants and wildlife spotted in their garden or whilst out walking on Exmoor.

The plea follows the launch of #30DaysWild this month, the Wildlife Trusts’ challenge to the nation to carry out Random Acts of Wildness every day in June, and is a great way of giving something back to the landscapes we love.

The National Park relies on records submitted by volunteers and the general public to help monitor the condition of habitats on Exmoor through its WildWatch scheme. This helps paint a picture of overall ecological health to help target conservation efforts and tackle problem invasive species.

The lockdown has meant many volunteer teams being stood down and far fewer records being submitted. This is a particular problem for projects with short-term funding, such as the Exmoor Non-Native Invasive Species (ENNIS) project – a two-year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, the National Trust and Natural England that was set to majorly scale up work to control invasive species in the National Park.

Ali Hawkins, Exmoor National Park Conservation Officer, said: “Prior to the lockdown we had a dedicated team of trained volunteers ready to start surveying for invasive species. But even with some volunteers now returning to surveying, we have nothing like the numbers needed for large-scale monitoring. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down on our two years of funding and, if we don’t find a way to get some records in, it could have a serious impact on the whole project.

“We’re appealing to everyone locally to take a little time out to check what’s growing and living in their gardens and, if out walking on Exmoor, to report what they see. Many of the invasive species that threaten our precious habitats started life as garden plants and it’s surprising how many private gardens still harbor them. Equally we would absolutely love to hear about all the bees, butterflies, songbirds, bats, owls, fungi and wild flowers that signal nature is thriving.

“Now is a good time to look out for the invasive species ‘American skunk cabbage’, with its large green fleshy leaves and distinctive yellow flower spikes. Sightings of this plant will help us tackle it as part of our ENNIS Project, which is funded by Defra and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. You will also spot the emergence of Japanese and Himalayan knotweed, Himalayan balsam and montbretia and we’d like to hear about these species too.”

Submitting a record is quick and easy and can be done on your mobile phone via the iNaturalist App or at www.inaturalist.org. There is even a category for unidentified species, so you don’t necessarily need to know the name. Or, if you don’t have a smart device, head to www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/wild-watch to submit an online record and also download a handy spotter guide.

PHOTO: American skunk cabbage has been banned from sale in the UK since 2016 due to the damage it can cause to native species if left to spread in the wild. Look out for it in wet woodland and on the banks of ponds and rivers. Seen here on the River Barle in Exmoor National Park.

EASING OF LOCKDOWN SEES RISE IN NATIONAL PARK FIRST-TIMERS

The following is a press release sent out by ENPA

As we head into summer and Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, Exmoor Rangers have seen a notable increase in people visiting the National Park for the first time. With retail and hospitality outlets shut and after weeks of being cooped up indoors, it seems many are taking up the Government’s advice to find enjoyment in the outdoors through picnics, sunbathing and walks in the countryside.

It’s a phenomenon affecting beauty spots around the country, with one survey by the Lake District National Park Authority finding that 68 per cent of last weekend’s visitors would not normally have come to the Lakes and many had never visited before.

Local services are also feeling the pressure from all the extra visitors, with Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Service reporting a sharp spike in call-outs to fires in the open compared with this time last year. Moorland fires in the summer breeding season spread quickly and can be devastating to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. When conditions are dry, they can start from something as simple as a disposable BBQ, cigarette stub or glass bottle.

Dan Barnett, Exmoor National Park Access & Recreation Manager, said: “Over the years National Parks have worked tirelessly in all sorts of ways to reach out to new audiences, but it’s taken a global pandemic to really shift the demographic. Whether a newcomer or seasoned to the outdoors, we welcome you and urge everyone to follow the Countryside Code and public health advice to help you enjoy the National Park safely. And it’s not just coronavirus that poses a risk – from avoiding tick bites to walking the dog, follow us on social media or head to our website to find out all you need to know.

“It’s clear that most people are being respectful, with almost no littering at places like Tarr Steps despite the high footfall. But elsewhere our rangers are taking away whole trailer loads of litter, spent BBQs, cigarettes and other flammable waste, discarded with little thought for local communities or the environmental damage that could result from a summer wildfire. A small minority also seem to be flouting the rules around social distancing and overnight stays, which risks spreading the virus. We’re working hard with police, landowners and other partners to address these issues and encourage care for the countryside.”

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Being away from the people and places we love has taken a terrible toll on this country. For many it has meant months of social isolation and worry, with a shocking 1 in 8 households having spent this time with no access to a garden according to ONS figures. In the aftermath we’re all learning to find our way in this ‘new normal’. It’s throwing up some challenges but also the opportunity to engage groups who, until now, may have felt completely alienated by the countryside. In doing so we are building a stronger more sustainable future for these special places for the benefit of everyone.”

For more information about visiting Exmoor National Park safely see: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/about-us/covid-19-exmoor or follow @ExmoorNP on Twitter and Facebook and @exmoor_national_park on Instagram.

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.

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/

‘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.