Category Archives: Exmoor National Park news

PROJECT TO RECREATE LOST GARDENS NEAR SIMONSBATH GETS UNDERWAY

A project to recreate a 200-year-old picturesque garden in the former royal forest of Exmoor, near Simonsbath, got underway last week following major funding from the Western Somerset LEADER programme and Exmoor National Park Authority.

The garden was once the vision of wealthy businessman John Knight, who in 1818 purchased a vast area of remote, uninhabited wilderness formerly used by the Crown for hunting and largely untouched since the Bronze Age. He set about building a grand mansion amidst an elaborate ‘Picturesque Landscape’ – a concept central to the Romantic Movement focused on harnessing natural beauty to enhance the sense of drama in the landscape.

For reasons that aren’t well understood his dream was never finished and his importance in shaping the Exmoor landscape remained largely overlooked until letters and documents dating from the time were uncovered in a loft near Kidderminster in 2016. These revealed ambitious plans to reclaim a vast area of remote valleys, mires, moors and woodland, along with the creation of a bespoke road and canal network, plus numerous buildings and farmsteads.

Even by modern-day standards it was a remarkable feat – with a 29-mile-long boundary wall, at least 12 miles of roads, two farmhouses, two canals, networks of land drains and the cultivation of more than 2,500 acres of moorland all documented as completed within the first 18 months. But amid faltering finances, a family feud over inheritance and his wife’s ill-health, the mansion remained unfinished, whilst the once awe-inspiring gardens sank back into obscurity.

Now, in the year of the 70th anniversary of the Parliamentary Act that gave rise to the UK’s National Parks, a team of volunteers working alongside the Simonsbath Programme Steering Group and Exmoor National Park Authority hope to bring the gardens back to life through work to reopen one of the original picturesque walks and restore historic buildings that formed part of the original garden.

Charlotte Hornsby, garden volunteer and member of the Simonsbath Programme Steering Group, said: “I’ve always been interested in historical gardens and so to be involved in one in my village is just fantastic. It was such an exciting day to finally start bringing John Knight’s picturesque vision back to life. It will truly be an Unexpected Garden of Exmoor.”

Rob Wilson-North, Exmoor National Park Authority’s Head of Conservation and Access, said: “The lost gardens of Ashcombe are a very rare example of a Picturesque landscape – a concept that underpinned the Romantic Movement and helped put the countryside at the very heart of Britishness, setting the tone for the creation of the UK’s National Parks over a century later.

“We hope these gardens will not only evoke the spirit of the Knight family and their important role in Exmoor’s past, but also help celebrate the special role of National Parks in shaping our cultural identity.”

Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the project should contact Patrick Watts-Mabbot on 07973727469 or email getinvolved@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.

EXMOOR VISITORS REPORT WORLD-CLASS SATISFACTION

Over 99 per cent of visitors to Exmoor rated their trip as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ and 96 per cent believe the National Park is being well managed and cared for, according to the results of Exmoor National Park Authority’s latest biannual visitor survey.*

The survey also revealed a ‘Net Promoter Score’ of 77 based on how likely visitors were to recommend a visit to friends and family. Scores of over 70 are considered the industry standard for a world-class brand, based on overall satisfaction and loyalty. The scenery and landscape was the top attractor to the area, followed by peace and tranquillity, the opportunity for outdoor activities, the coastline and the wildlife.

The results are based on over 400 face-to-face interviews with visitors conducted between July and December last year at over 20 locations across the National Park.

Dan James, Exmoor National Park Authority’s Sustainable Economy Manager, said: “The tourism sector on Exmoor should be justifiably proud of these findings. Our sector is dominated by often family-run micro businesses, who work very hard to give visitors the best possible experience, and these results are testament to their devotion.

“70 years on from the 1949 Act of Parliament that paved the way for the UK’s National Parks, it’s heartening that Exmoor continues to offer inspiration and recreation to people from across the UK and beyond, contributing an estimated £125m to the rural economy each year. Together with our partners there are plenty of new initiatives to help us move ahead with confidence, including further developing astro-tourism opportunities, launching new immersive tourism products and continuing to invest in our Rights of Way network.”

Welcoming the survey results Jennette Baxter, Visit Exmoor Development Manager, said: “These results confirm what we already know – that people love Exmoor. The information gathered helps us plan our marketing strategies. The #VisitMoorThanOnce campaign is in response to findings that, despite wanting to return, over a fifth of repeat visitors hadn’t visited in three years. We are encouraging them to return again sooner.”

The full survey results are available on the Exmoor National Park website at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/tourism and will be presented at the Visit Exmoor Tourism Business Networking Day on 13 March – see www.visit-exmoor.co.uk/trade/business-networking-day-2019.

PHOTO: By Andrew Hobbs, from the spring walking feature in Exmoor Magazine.

NEW IMMERSIVE TOURISM EXPERIENCES LAUNCHED ON EXMOOR

A suite of new experiences aimed at inspiring more international tourists to explore the extraordinary landscapes and culture of Exmoor National Park are being unveiled at a public event today at Dunster Castle (Wednesday 27 February). They form part of the English National Park Experience Collection – a selection of over 70 immersive visitor experiences across nine National Parks in England funded by VisitEngland’s Discover England Fund.

Research suggests that when people travel they no longer want to just ‘see’ a place; they want to live it, breathe it, touch it and become part of it. The new collection offers outstanding visitor experiences in some of the country’s finest landscapes. Each experience has been carefully selected, developed and curated to tell the stories of Exmoor National Park, and the people who care for it.

During the course of the 12-month project, Exmoor National Park Authority held a series of workshops to help local tourism providers identify the most authentic and compelling experiences, and train them in how best to engage the international travel trade.

Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Exmoor is a very special place and, through this project, we hope to inspire more people to explore its wonderful landscape, and learn about the amazing people, heritage and wildlife behind it. By targeting independent and small group travel through overseas tour operators, we hope to open up new markets, helping tourism continue to grow sustainably and contribute to the vibrancy of our local communities.

“Independent research by the University of Exeter commissioned by the National Park Authority previously highlighted the need to talk more about the experiences that visitors can enjoy in the incredible landscape. This new project has allowed us to turn that research into action, by supporting a number of micro rural businesses to take advantage of new market trends.”

The nine experiences available on Exmoor are:

  1. Literary Footsteps – Follow in the footsteps of great writers, see the landscapes that inspired their work and experience their countryside and its traditions through a choice of informative and entertaining guided walks, finishing with a jug of local ale or cream tea at a traditional English pub.
  2. Fly back to Nature with Owls and Hawks – Marvel at the beauty of a close encounter with these impressive birds as they fly to your gloved hand in the timeless surroundings of a fifteenth-century farmstead.
  3. Medieval Dunster – Explore the ancient castle and its grounds and the charming historic village. See how Dunster flour is made, from grain to bag, enjoying an interactive mill experience before sampling the produce used to best advantage in a traditional lunch or cream team.
  4. Moods of Exmoor – Unlock the secrets of Exmoor through the lens of your camera. Discover hidden views, breath-taking landscapes and colourful seasonal changes with an internationally renowned, local photographer who is delighted to share his tips and advice throughout the day.
  5. Exmoor Wildlife Safari – Get off the beaten track with an experienced local safari guide, learn all about the local myths and legends, wildlife and terrain on this extended 4×4 safari, with the opportunity to meet the ponies close up at the Exmoor Pony centre.
  6. Old English Rural Life – Step back in time and discover the history of the Holnicote Estate – the largest single land ownership gifted to the National Trust. This ranger-guided walk starts with a delicious local breakfast and finishes with a cream tea on the beach.
  7. Seafront Dining Adventure – Fish for your lunch with a local mackerel fisherman and see the famous Porlock Oyster beds then head for land where you’ll savour your beautifully prepared catch, and sip local wine in an idyllic waterfront restaurant.
  8. Victorian Exmoor – Experience life in the Victorian Era; take a guided walk through the seaside villages of Lynton and Lynmouth to ride the famous cliff railway and then relax in a Victorian heritage carriage behind a steam engine on a trip through the Exmoor countryside.
  9. Plus the new Exmoor National Park Ranger Experience days, piloted last year, offering a unique insight into the varied life of a National Park Ranger plus a full farmhouse lunch.

Supporting accommodation providers include the Luttrell Arms and Yarn Market Hotel in Dunster, the Hunters Inn, and the Old Rectory Hotel in north-west Exmoor and the Exmoor White Horse Hotel in Exford.

Sarah Fowler, Sustainable Tourism Lead for the nine English National Parks and Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “This brand-new collection of experiences has been designed to harness the growing demand for experiential tourism; alongside quality accommodation they will be easy to book options for the overseas travel trade. From travel agents, tour operators, wholesales or guides, there is something in the mix for most buyers’ upcoming schedules or brochures, helping to support hundreds of businesses across our National Parks.”

See the newly launched English National Park Experience Collection website for information about the full range of experiences: www.nationalparkexperiences.co.uk.

PHOTO: By Dan James

FUNDING BOOST FOR PROJECTS CELEBRATING EXMOOR

Five new community projects set to benefit Exmoor and its special qualities are the latest to receive grants from the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund*.

All the schemes have been awarded funding of up to £2,500 in recognition of their contribution to National Park purposes to conserve and enhance the wildlife, natural beauty and cultural heritage of the area, and promote opportunities for people to enjoy them.

Successful bids included money towards a unique poetry project, jointly funded with the Exmoor Society, looking to raise awareness of the benefits of pasture-fed livestock. Poet Adam Horovitz will be staying with two Exmoor Hill Farming Network farmers who are championing the approach, and turning his experiences into a collection of poetry encapsulating how they work in harmony with nature to raise their animals. They will be published later this year as an addition to ‘The Soil Never Sleeps’ – an earlier collection inspired by shadowing farmers throughout the seasons.

The project is the brainwave of John Meadley, President of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association – an alliance of certified farms committed to feeding their livestock on 100% pasture throughout life. He said: “There aren’t many farming organisations who can say they have a poet in residence, but thanks to this grant we’re delighted to be working with Adam to help promote the many benefits of raising livestock in the way nature intended. We hope that through his unique talent for capturing the passions and beliefs that drive farmers, we’ll be able to convince more people why pasture-fed is best for their health, the planet, the welfare of the animals and even the farmer’s purse.”

Philip Kiberd, Funding Officer at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The Partnership Fund exists for the benefit of everyone who lives in, visits and cares about the National Park. We can offer match funding of up to £2,500 in return for either cash or in-kind contributions, such as volunteer time, making it really accessible for anyone with a great idea to get help with funding. It’s great to see so many innovative projects going on in the National Park and we look forward to awarding the next round of funding in March.”

Funding awards are made around four times a year, and applicants have until 4 March to submit an expression of interest in time to be considered for the next funding round. Community-led projects that can enhance the landscape, help nature, investigate heritage or introduce new people to the National Park are of particular interest. 2019 is also the Year of Green Action and the 70th anniversary of the founding legislation for UK National Parks, providing further inspiration for people to put forward their ideas.

Full details, guidance notes and application forms are available on the Authority’s website at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/partnership-fund or to discuss an idea contact the Funding Officer on 01398 322237 or partnershipfund@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.

* Recently supported projects include:
1.     A grant to help protect and conserve Brendon Hill Methodist Church, safeguarding part of Exmoor’s building heritage
2.     Funding towards the development of Porlock Weir Pilot Gig  Club adding to recreational activity on Exmoor’s coast
3.     A contribution to a new floodgate at Western Beach, Lynmouth, allowing winter access for people, while keeping the storms out
4.     A grant for a farming poetry project offering an alternative voice to Exmoor hill farming
5.     Funding towards a Lorna Doone exhibition led by Dulverton Heritage Centre, celebrating 150 years, in 2019, since the publication of this Exmoor novel.


PHOTO: Exmoor hill farmer Oliver Edwards pictured with poet Adam Horovitz during a recent stay at Westermill Farm to learn about lambing.

MOOR TO ENJOY PROJECT

Syrian refugees were among those to benefit from a ground-breaking five-year project to boost people’s health and wellbeing, by breaking down barriers to them enjoying time outdoors in National Parks. Research shows that spending time in green spaces can measurably improve people’s mental and physical health, raising the prospect that so-called ‘green prescribing’ could one day become part of mainstream medicine.

Khaled and Duaa recently moved near Exmoor National Park with their three children, having previously lived in Jordan and, before that, Syria. They visited Exmoor National Park for the first time through the Moor to Enjoy Project*, a five-year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority and Somerset and Devon Public Health, to help connect local groups with nature.

Carol Bryant from Taunton Welcomes Refugees, who have been supporting the family since their move, translated what the trip to Exmoor meant to them. She said: “What stood out for them was the sea – the children were seeing it for the first time having previously been in landlocked Jordan – and the animals. They saw cows, sheep and Exmoor ponies. Khaled was a farmer in Syria and loves the countryside. He said the scenery was lovely. They also visited the mill at Dunster and Khaled said how much he’d like to return with the whole family and visit the castle, so the trip triggered an interest in returning to the area.”

Lucy McQuillan, Exmoor National Park project coordinator for Moor to Enjoy, said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to lead this project and see first-hand the amazing impact that time outdoors in the company of others can have for people going through some truly difficult times.

“It may seem like a small thing, but these kinds of connections can make a huge difference to people’s lives. Through Moor to Enjoy, I’m pleased to say we’ve helped over 1,000 people from 40 different groups with different challenges, spanning homelessness, drug and alcohol problems, visual impairment, mental health issues and dementia. It’s been truly humbling.”

*Funding for the Moor to Enjoy project ended in 2018, but the National Park are always happy to advise groups and there may still be opportunities to access support and funding through other programmes. Contact Tim Braund tbraund@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk for information.

PHOTO: The Abdulnabi family at a Taunton Welcomes Refugees event, where the Moor to Enjoy project was recognised for its outstanding contribution to refugee resettlement.

PHOTO COMPETITION TO CELEBRATE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF NATIONAL PARKS

The UK National Parks and Campaign for National Parks have launched a new photography competition to celebrate the 70th anniversary of National Parks in the UK.

Around the theme of a ‘Moment in time’, the competition comes 70 years since the 1949 Act of Parliament that began the family of National Parks in the UK, that today includes beloved landscapes such as Exmoor, Dartmoor and the Peak District.

Pictures could explore the incredible history of world-famous heritage sites, the people, wildlife and landscapes of the UK’s 15 National Parks.

Tim Braund, Head of Communication and Information at Exmoor National Park, said: “This is a great chance for everyone to share their favourite Exmoor National Park moments in time this January. Whether it’s a spectacular dark sky or a selfie on a walk, there’s no better way of kicking those January blues than with a celebration of the UK’s beautiful National Parks.”

Andrew Hall of Campaign for National Parks, the national charity dedicated to the English and Welsh National Parks, said: “We are really looking forward to paying homage to the legacy of the men and women that fought for our access to the most beautiful countryside through this competition.

“We are so lucky to have some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes on our doorstep. Whether it is the rugged coast of Pembrokeshire or morning mist in Exmoor, we can’t wait to see what you can do with a camera!”

The winner will receive a feature spread in Campaign for National Parks’ membership magazine, Viewpoint.

To enter, participants simply have to read the terms and conditions and tag their images on social media with the hashtag #NP70Moments

For terms and conditions and further details go to: www.cnp.org.uk/photography-competition

Photo: Towards Lynmouth where Exmoor meets the sea, ©Julia Amies Green, runner-up in 2018 Campaign for National Parks summer photo competition.

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