Category Archives: Exmoor National Park news

EXMOOR VOLUNTEERS SHORTLISTED FOR UK NATIONAL PARKS AWARD

Volunteers behind a project to restore historic signposts across Exmoor National Park have been shortlisted for the UK National Parks Volunteering Awards 2018. Sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, the award recognises the outstanding contribution that volunteers make in helping care for these precious landscapes and inspiring others to safeguard them for future generations to experience and enjoy.

Two years ago, many of Exmoor’s traditional cast-iron signposts were looking shabby and at risk of falling into disrepair. In response to concern from local communities over the issue, Exmoor National Park Authority teamed up with Heritage Lottery fund and Somerset County Council to fund a project that would recruit volunteers to help restore and refurbish them, and trace their history.

Stuart and Mike are two of the fantastic army of over a hundred volunteers!

Project leader Charlotte Thomas from Exmoor National Park, said: “More than 100 volunteers have contributed to this project, helping with everything from the initial surveys and historical research, to actually painting and refurbishing the signs. We’ve even had people coming forward with bits of old signpost found in outbuildings that are now back in their rightful place, saving hundreds of pounds in restoration costs. Being shortlisted for this award is a great way of celebrating all that’s been achieved by these wonderful volunteers.”

Two other projects from Northumberland and Dartmoor National Parks have been shortlisted alongside Exmoor for the ‘projects’ category – one of four categories of award.

The judging panel this year was made up of the volunteer coordinators from all of the National Parks, who made the following statement: “Judging these awards is a humbling experience as it gives us the opportunity to learn about so many people and projects that are making an immense contribution to the 15 National Parks across the UK. It was a difficult choice this year as there were so many inspiring entries. We’d like to congratulate those who have been shortlisted and we would like to thank everyone who is volunteering to help our staff look after National Parks!”

The winners of each category will be announced at the Kendal Mountain Festival on 17 November 2018. All winners will receive great prizes provided by Columbia Sportswear and £1000 bursary is given to the group and project winners to help their volunteer work.

GENERATION OF SCHOOL CHILDREN INSPIRED BY LORNA DOONE

A South Somerset school has visited Exmoor National Park for the 25th year running, giving thousands of students the chance to experience the landscape that inspired the world-famous romantic novel, Lorna Doone.

Students from Maiden Beech Academy, a middle school in Crewkerne, first visited Exmoor’s famous Doone Valley in October 1993, and have visited every year since. Approximately 100 Year 8 pupils attend each year, meaning the total runs into the thousands.

Guided by National Park leaders, they are taken on a walk from County Gate to Malmsmead Church to Cloud Farm, and on to the medieval ruins of the ‘Doone settlement’ – all prominent locations in the book. The return trip includes the steep climb from Badgery Water back up to County Gate, which is hard on tired legs, but remains a fun and exhilarating challenge that is remembered for years to come. During the visits, the children also have the opportunity to learn about field skills, such as river surveys, as well as map and navigation skills.

Lorna Doone was published in 1869 by R.D. Blackmore – one of the most famous British novelists of the Victorian era. The story incorporates wonderful descriptions of the most remote and rugged parts of Exmoor, as well as real events such as The Great Winter and the Monmouth Rebellion, plus folk traditions of the notorious Doone family and the highwayman Tom Faggus. It has never since been out of print.

Year 8 teacher Chris Stacey, who has been accompanying children on the visits for the past ten years, said: “The Lorna Doone books are almost worn out now, but the children so enjoy the story that the study continues. They love visiting the places described in the novel and being able to experience the wonderful landscape around the Doone Valley.”

Exmoor National Park’s Dave Gurnett, who has led all 25 of the visits, said: “It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and taking the children there makes such a difference to their understanding of the book. With just 12 per cent of UK children having never visited the countryside, we believe outdoor learning should form a vital part of every child’s education.”

Next year marks the 150th anniversary since Lorna Doone was first published, with the National Park encouraging local businesses and organisations to join in with the celebrations, planned to include a major Lorna Doone exhibition at Dulverton Heritage Centre, along with themed walks, arts events, literary sessions and a variety of other events around the National Park. Anyone interested in organising an event should contact Katrina Munro on KJMunro@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or call 01398 322236.

BIG ADVENTURE DAY AT WEBBERS POST

Join Exmoor National Park for a Big Adventure Day this autumn half term at Webbers Post, set within the National Trust’s picturesque Holnicote Estate. There will be a host of free outdoor activities for all the family running throughout the day on Wednesday 31 October from 10am to 4pm.

Join in a bug hunt, help build a giant den, try your hand at campfire cooking, get your face painted, go on a fungi walk, make a witch’s broom, get help spotting wildlife from the Exmoor Natural History Society. Or simply sit back and enjoy the panoramic views over Horner Wood and the wild moorland stretching up to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor.

Webbers Post is a haven for Red deer, Exmoor ponies, bats and the rare heath fritillary butterfly, along with an awesome array of lichens and mosses. As it’s the rutting season, you may even be lucky enough to hear roaring stags on the nearby hills.

Patrick Watt-Mabbott, Exmoor National Park’s Volunteering and Outreach Officer, said: “It’s the last ‘Big Adventure’ of the year and, with the help of the National Trust and our wonderful volunteers, we’ve got some great activities lined up. There’s no need to book and everyone is welcome, so grab a picnic and wellies and join us for a wild day out!”

The event is free, but donations to CareMoor for Exmoor will be welcome. There are car parking and toilet facilities on site. For more information visit the Exmoor National Park website or contact the National Park Centre at Dulverton on 01398 323841.

EXMOOR’S RIGHTS OF WAY RATED FIRST-CLASS

The following is a press release issued by ENPA

Rights of way on Exmoor have been assessed as some of the best in the country for a second year running, in the National Path Authority’s newly published annual Rights of Way and Access Report*.

96 per cent of public footpaths, bridleways and byways were classed as ‘open and easy to use’ – the highest of all National Parks, and the number of issues resolved within three months has increased to 84 per cent.

The report also records the highest ever output of ‘National Park furniture’ – with a total of 831 signs, 404 sign posts and 155 gates having been constructed and installed this year alone, using timber sourced from the National Park’s own woodland estate.

Lots of the assessment work is carried out by National Park volunteers, who this year provided crucial feedback on paths throughout 11 parishes, totalling 360 hours of work.

Each season they help to survey a randomly selected set of paths covering 10 per cent of the network. Using nationally recognised assessment criteria, volunteers score each route according to how easy it is to navigate, the state of vegetation, and the condition of stiles, gates, signage and surfaces.

Kevin Snewing, Path Watcher Volunteer, said: “A bonus of being a Path Watcher volunteer is that I get to walk parts of the National Park that I probably wouldn’t normally visit, and there are some gems out there. I was particularly impressed by the network above Lynton.”

Dan Barnett, Access and Recreation Manager, said: “Keeping the rights of way network in top condition is crucially important, not just for people’s enjoyment but also to protect precious habitats and reduce disturbance to farming. But we wouldn’t be able to achieve these kinds of targets without ongoing support from our partners and highly-skilled contractors, along with donations from the public through CareMoor for Exmoor, plus our fantastic volunteers. It really is a team effort.”

For more information about National Park volunteering opportunities visit: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/get-involved

‘BIG DIPPER’ CAMPAIGN WILL HELP FESTIVAL REACH STAR POTENTIAL

Exmoor National Park is supporting a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of light pollution and help conserve our dark night skies, set to play a starring role in the region’s Dark Skies Festival starting this week (17 October–4 November).

The ‘Big Dipper’ campaign is the brainchild of the Dark Sky Alliance, a national group made up of conservationists, astronomers and tourist operators, including a number of National Parks. With the nights drawing in, and over 40 Festival events poised to get underway, it’s a timely reminder of the need to limit excess light pollution to ensure Exmoor’s starry night skies can continue to be experienced to their full.

Exmoor is one of only a handful of internationally accredited Dark Sky Reserves, making it one of the best places in the country for stargazing. It means that the amount of light pollution within and around the National Park is tightly controlled, so shooting stars, constellations, planets and the Milky Way are all easily visible with the naked eye or just a pair of binoculars.

Exmoor National Park’s Katrina Munro, who is coordinating the Festival, said: “Exmoor is one of the few places in Britain where you can see our night skies in all their stellar glory, but to get the best out of the experience it helps to be guided by an expert.

“From astro-themed family party nights at Wimbleball Lake and a touring pop-up Planetarium, to wild swims, night runs and moonlit hilltop walks, this year’s Festival has something for everyone, from the adventurous to the curious. Last year many events sold out, so we would urge people to book without delay on the Exmoor National Park website or our National Park Centres.”

As part of the Big Dipper campaign, property owners are being urged to consider how much outside lighting they use and ensure where possible that lamps are dipped downwards.

Many outside lights, especially LED floodlights and security lights, can be too bright and installed in such a way that much of the light is directed up into the night sky. This contributes to the orangey-white sky glow above our towns and cities, which spreads out into the countryside, spoiling the night-time view.

The campaign has already won backing from the BAA Commission for Dark Skies, along with Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who said: “It’s important that efforts are sustained to cut light pollution further so we can all marvel at the night sky wherever we may live. This campaign deserves wide support.”

Pamela Morris, Senior Landscape Officer for Exmoor National Park, added: “Simple steps, like dipping outdoor lighting and limiting the use of more powerful security lights, can have a big impact on our view of the stars. The night time environment is a crucial natural resource for people, wildlife and also astro-tourism, and we look forward to celebrating its many wonders at this year’s Dark Skies Festival.”

The Big Dipper campaign is asking people to:

• Ensure lights point down and are fully shielded.
• Only illuminate areas you need to and don’t leave lights on all night – use a timer or motion sensor.
• Employ lighting that is no brighter than necessary.
• If possible don’t use LEDs emitting bright white/blue light, but rather warmer colours.

The power of a light is best characterised by its lumens output, usually listed on the packaging.  About 500 lumens is ample to illuminate a back garden.  Many LED products also state the light’s colour temperature. Units of 3,000K and below, which produce a warm white colour, are less harmful to the night-time environment than 4,000K and 5,000K lights.

For advice on minimising light pollution visit www.britastro.org/dark-skies or darksky.org/lighting/lighting-basics/

PHOTO: Dunkery Beacon by Keith Trueman

NEW FINDINGS ON EXMOOR’S MIRES, MINILITHS AND MONUMENTS

Results of recent archaeological research on Exmoor are due to be presented at the National Park’s annual Archaeology Forum on Saturday 13 October 10am – 4.30pm at Brushford Parish Hall.

Archaeological research on Exmoor’s peatlands, undertaken as part of the Exmoor Mires Partnership, will showcase a multi-disciplinary study of the prehistoric landscapes and settlements of Codsend Moor.

An analysis of the efforts of the Knight Family to ‘improve’ the former Royal Forest will look at the palaeo-environmental evidence and compare the field remains with old letters and other documents from the Knight family uncovered in an attic in 2016. Speakers include Prof. Ralph Fyfe and Havananda Ombashi from the University of Plymouth and Ross Dean, Hazel Riley and Dr Martin Gillard.

In the afternoon, the results of a survey examining the condition of Exmoor’s oldest structures, known as ‘miniliths’, will be presented. In the face of them being threatened by off-road vehicles, erosion, vandalism, grazing animals and even moorland vegetation, the National Park was awarded funding from Historic England to appoint an intern in 2017 to catalogue and thoroughly investigate the condition of the stones.

Jack Fuller, the intern who carried out the investigation, said: “Exmoor’s standing stones are more than 4,000 years old, yet we’re still discovering new things all the time. The survey included more than 140 sites, and even led to the discovery of new stones, which just goes to show how much more there still is to learn about Exmoor’s fascinating past.”

It’s thought Exmoor’s standing stone monuments originate from some time between the Late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (c.3000-1500BCE).  Many are under half a metre tall, with some barely protruding the surface of the turf and include rows, circles and a variety of other shapes. Dr Sandy Gerrard’s talk will shed light on how Exmoor’s stone rows compare with those from around Britain. To conclude,  Exmoor National Park Authority archaeologists will present a summary of other recent work, along with the final year results of a project to restore some of our most recent historic assets: traditional black and white signposts.

There are still two or three tickets remaining for the 18th Exmoor Archaeology Forum. They cost £17 each, including a buffet lunch. For more information and to book a place search “archaeology forum” on the Exmoor National Park Website – www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk – or call 01398 322289.

NATIONAL PARK APPRENTICES EXCHANGE TRIP

National Park Apprentices from Exmoor and North York Moors spent a week in each other’s parks this summer to expand their knowledge of countryside management. But this was an exchange trip with a difference, with students swapping path-laying and bridge-building skills rather than culture and languages.

In the North York Moors, the students were shown how recycled flagstones from the old mills of West Yorkshire were used to prevent path erosion – a common problem along popular routes – and how bridges and other ‘National Park furniture’ are made on site in the sawmill. They saw first hand how the popular Coast to Coast route is maintained and learned how the area’s long history of mining is managed to minimise impact on the landscape.

The following month it was Exmoor’s turn to host, sharing lessons in how timber grown on Exmoor is used to make handmade gates, signs and stiles to help maintain the rights of way network. The group also went on a dragonfly identification course to learn about the many rare species found on Exmoor, and found out about ‘Ranger Experience Days’, giving people the chance to go behind the scenes at the National Park and see places visitors rarely go.

Exmoor National Park apprentice Lily Cox, who went on the exchange, said: “The public get to see all the beautiful signs, gates and bridges out in the National Park, but it’s fascinating to go behind the scenes and learn for yourself how to make them from scratch. It’s a vital part of the work that goes on to get ready for all those boots, bikes and hooves throughout the year. Seeing how it’s done in another National Park has been a really great learning experience and given me loads of new skills to use on my apprenticeship.”

The Government’s 2008 Environment Plan challenged National Parks to double the number of apprenticeships available by 2020, and there are now a growing number of entry-level opportunities throughout the National Park family, covering everything from field services and ranger duties, to business and administration. For the latest opportunities see: http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/about-us/jobs-and-volunteering

Dan Barnett, Recreation and Access Manager, said: “Our aim is to train our apprentices in a whole range of countryside management skills. This will set them up for a future career and also helps create more opportunities for people to live and work locally.

“In return they make a vital contribution to the team, carrying out important maintenance and repair work across the rights of way network, and bringing with them a fresh outlook to the workplace. It’s a great partnership.”

MINEHEAD’S NORTH HILL ON THE RADAR

A convoy of military vehicles will depart from Minehead this Saturday (8 September) at 10.30am en route to the Second World War tank training grounds and Radar Station on North Hill, as part of a celebration of wartime heritage hosted by Exmoor National Park and the National Trust for Heritage Open Days.

During the war, North Hill was closed to civilians and brought under military control. It became one of country’s five new tank training ranges for British, American and Canadian troops. Tucked down the coastal slopes lay a top-secret Radar Station, one of 244 across the country and part of a coastal defensive chain to identify shipping and low-flying aircraft. The stations were ‘manned’ 24 hours a day and operators at Radar Stations were often women from the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

The top-secret radar stations were often stationed by women (photo sourced by Gwen Arnold).

The convoy will parade along Minehead seafront via Blenheim Gardens, before heading to North Hill where spectators can discover more about this incredible time through displays at the Radar Station and guided walks of the training grounds across to Bossington Hill. There will also be a chance to learn about the earlier archaeological landscape, from the Iron Age settlement at Bury Castle to the ruined medieval Burgundy Chapel.

The event is suitable for all ages and free to attend, but donations are welcome to CareMoor for Exmoor, which fundraises towards the upkeep of the National Park.

Shirley Blaylock, Historic Environment Conservation Officer at Exmoor National Park, said: “This is a fantastic chance for people to discover a slice of history from the National Park that is often overlooked. North Hill was an important military complex during the Second World War and it’s great to be able to bring to life the role that it played in maintaining national security at this critical time.”

For more information about the event visit: www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/castles-in-the-sky-the-wwii-radar-station-on-north-hill

AWARD FOR EXMOOR’S WOODLANDS

Exmoor National Park has won a prestigious Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Excellence in Forestry Award for its sustainable approach to woodland management and involvement of community groups*. It complements a new Government accord announced last week that aims to expand and enhance woodland in National Parks**.

Moor Wood near Minehead is being slowly transformed by the National Park’s woodlands team using a technique called Continuous Cover Forestry, which harnesses the ability of woodlands to naturally regenerate.

The small temporary gaps created when carefully selected trees are felled  provides a stable habitat for a variety of woodland species, such as birds, butterflies and fungi, whilst allowing commercially viable amounts of timber to be harvested sustainably. This avoids the need for large-scale felling, which takes several decades to regenerate and generally involves uniform plantations that are more vulnerable to environmental pressures.

Graeme McVittie, Senior Woodland Conservation Officer for Exmoor National Park, said: “It’s great to get this kind of recognition for the work we’re doing to make Exmoor’s woodlands more resilient in the face of modern day threats from pests, disease and climate change. We’ve witnessed the loss of elm and larch in our woodlands, and are now losing horse chestnut and ash. Storms and drought have caused further damage and other diseases threaten our oaks and sweet chestnut. So it’s vital that we do all we can to prepare these places for the future.”

The Certificate of Merit was also awarded for the National Park’s commitment to creating opportunities for local communities enjoy and benefit from Exmoor’s woodlands.

Woodcombe Community Woodland is a project initiated by Forum 21, an environmental group in West Somerset.  It leases an area of woodland from the National Park to produce seasoned firewood to help local people in fuel poverty, with the help of local volunteers.
Graham Boswell who leads the project for Forum 21, said: “It’s great to see our idea for a community woodland brought to life through our ongoing partnership with the National Park. The next few years will be crucial in terms of developing a workforce with the necessary woodland skills, but we’re all up for the challenge and excited by the potential benefits for the whole community.”

Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation and Access at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Exmoor’s diverse woodlands are truly special, providing a rich haven for nature, from some of the country’s rarest birds, butterflies and bats, to seldom seen lichens, liverworts and mosses. But they’re also an important part of the local economy, providing timber and recreational opportunities, along with a host of public benefits, including educational opportunities, carbon storage and flood alleviation. Balancing these priorities isn’t always easy, but this award is a sure sign we’re on the right track.”

Presenting the Awards, RFS President Andrew Woods, said: “The Excellence in Forestry Awards have once again revealed a rich seam of excellence in woodland management – from some of the most prestigious estates in the country to some of the smallest of woodlands. As landowners and woodland managers look to an uncertain future with increasing climate and environmental challenges, these are all woodlands we can learn from.

“It is also uplifting to see the fantastic work that is being carried out among communities to encourage forestry and woodland skills. These projects tap into the enthusiasm of those who will be planning, planting and managing our woodlands in the future as well as looking at how timber can be used in construction for generations to come and deserve the recognition they receive.”

SMALL GRANTS AVAILABLE FOR EXMOOR PROJECTS

Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund Small Grants scheme is offering grants of up to £2,500, for projects that can make a difference for Exmoor. Funding of up to 75% is available to cover both capital and revenue costs.

Projects need to deliver National Park purposes: to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, or promote opportunities to increase public understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area.

The National Park Authority is especially interested in projects that provide opportunities for volunteering on Exmoor, widen audiences, and benefit conservation.

Improve a habitat, complete a local wildlife survey, investigate some heritage, create a local guide, engage a new audience, arrange a nature day, explore Exmoor’s moorland, woodlands, rivers and streams, conserve a local landmark.

If you have an idea that you think might be eligible contact the Funding Officer on 01398 322237 or email partnershipfund@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.

Full details, guidance notes and application forms are available on the Authority’s website www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/living-and-working/grants-and-funding/partnership-fund