Category Archives: Exmoor National Park news

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.

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