Children’s lockdown artwork raises Devon CPRE funds to protect countryside 

Vibrant paintings of the countryside created by Devon’s primary school children during this year’s first lockdown have provided the artwork for a new calendar produced by local countryside charity Devon CPRE.

Proceeds from the calendar will be used to fund the charity’s vital campaign work to safeguard Devon’s precious landscapes and green spaces for future generations.

Devon CPRE’s 2020 ‘My Outdoors’ Art Competition was a big hit with youngsters during this year’s spring lockdown, with more entries than ever before. Primary school pupils from across the county rose to the challenge of creating colourful images in celebration of Devon’s glorious countryside, even though many children were unable to experience the great outdoors at the time because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Devon CPRE Director Penny Mills says, “When we saw all the wonderful entries, we decided a calendar for 2021 would be the ideal way to showcase the children’s pictures whilst raising money for our campaign work. As you’d expect, the calendar is printed on environmentally friendly paper and includes the winning entries as well as some highly commended ones. It’s an ideal small gift to pop in the post for Christmas!”

The competition asked children to depict ‘My Outdoors’ in any medium of their choice.

  • St Peter’s Prep School at Lympstone near Exmouth won Best Overall School.
  • The individual winner in Key Stage 1 was six-year-old Betsy from St Peter’s Prep School, Lympstone, Exmouth for her seaside painting.
  • The joint winners in Key Stage 2 were 11-year-old Graciella from Pilton Bluecoat Academy, Barnstaple for her watercolour of Mannings Pit in North Devon (pictured at top) and 10-year-old Thomasin from St Peter’s Prep School, Lympstone who painted Bowerman’s Nose on Dartmoor.

The A4-size calendar costs just £7 including post & packaging. Copies are available to buy from www.cpredeon.org.uk or by calling 01392 966737.

Hazel Prior’s Penguins in the Book Club

Exmoor writer, Hazel Prior, was thrilled to learn that her latest novel, Away With The Penguins, has been chosen for the prestigious Richard and Judy Book Club. Away With The Penguins went through a rigorous selection process to reach the longlist, then it was read by Richard and Judy themselves (alongside a group of book industry experts) who picked it for the final selection.

“This news has been a marvellous boost,” says Hazel, whose book launch had to be cancelled, along with all the other author events she had scheduled for this year. “It’s a real privilege to meet Richard and Judy, and to have my novel picked out of all the thousands. I have to keep pinching myself.”

The book tells the story of feisty octogenarian millionairess, Veronica McCreedy, and her adventures in Antarctica with some penguins. It is a fun, uplifting read but also addresses serious issues about climate change, ageing, and the importance of family and community. “It’s a story full of hope,” Hazel says. “I want my writing to say something important, but also to entertain readers and help them feel better about life. I always turn to books myself during hard times and when I started writing I decided that I’d try to put something life-affirming out there. That has become more important than ever during these difficult times.”

Hazel’s debut novel, Ellie And The Harp Maker, is set on Exmoor and only came out last year. It is a quirky, lyrical read influenced by Hazel’s love of the local landscape and music (she is also a harpist). Inspired partly by the fact that she had a two-book deal with the publishers ‘Penguin’ and partly by a friend’s marvellous penguin photographs, Hazel decided to write her second novel based around these fascinating birds. She spent a lot of time researching and met a few penguins in the process.

Away With The Penguins has already been selected as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick, and Hazel had a conversation about her writing live on air with Jo Whiley earlier this year.

To coincide with the book’s paperback publication this week, Hazel had a private Zoom meeting with Richard and Judy themselves, who are always keen to meet the authors of the books they love. She chatted with them about living on Exmoor, writing and, of course, penguins. Richard and Judy’s famous Book Club, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this October, is run by WHSmiths, so Away With The Penguins (complete with a written interview between Hazel and Richard and Judy) will be stocked in all the branches of Smiths up and down the country as well as in Waterstones and other outlets.

You can read the announcement here.

 

Exmoor Ponies rescue the Exmoor Pony Project – with their compost!

After Covid restrictions obliterated normal income streams for the Exmoor Pony Project, it is the Exmoor ponies themselves who have galloped to the rescue – with their compost. Exmoor National Park Authority has now awarded a Partnership Fund Grant to help Exmoor Compost evolve a production process. 

Exmoor Pony Project founders Nick and Dawn Westcott, who farm on the National Trust Holnicote Estate in Porlock Vale, saw their 2020 plans for pony workshops, talks, events and activities dashed with the lockdown in March and Dawn found herself falling through the gaps with the Government’s Covid support. 

“As a self-employed author channelling income to run the Exmoor Pony Project, which is a conservation project rather than a business, I didn’t meet the ‘criteria’ for Central Government grant support and found myself one of the millions of ‘ExcludedUK’. We have over 30 Exmoor ponies, including orphans, from various moorland herds in our direct care and their management must be maintained yet the overheads continue regardless. When income streams disappear just like that, those costs put immense much pressure on the farm.”

Of course, caring for a large herd of Exmoor ponies also produces a large amount of manure, which the Westcotts have discovered has slowly matured into excellent compost. 

“Earlier this year, when I established our kitchen garden, Nick suggested I try some of the pony compost. It was superb stuff and, in June, after hearing there was a shortage of good compost in the area, we offered some bags of Exmoor Pony Multi-Purpose Compost as a fundraiser for the pony project, hoping local gardeners would give it a try. We soon found ourselves delivering bags across the area, from North Devon to the Quantock Hills. We’ve had great feedback from gardeners and, importantly, significant repeat orders already.”

The Westcotts are evolving a preparation and screening process that is resulting in a dark, friable, easy to handle compost that keen gardeners describe as ‘black gold’. Anne Lawton from Minehead said, “It’s the most fabulous black crumbly compost ever. Highly recommended and it’s supporting Exmoor ponies, who are the producers of this wonderful stuff.”

Since June, over 1,000 bags of the compost have been sold and the Westcotts are hopeful that their new Exmoor Compost venture will develop to help maintain the Exmoor Pony Project for the long term. 

“It’s rather lovely that the ponies themselves are providing the means to contribute to their own care. This year is all about survival and these ponies are certainly survivors – many of them would not be here without this project. They’re already benefiting from the compost sales and we’ve been able to buy a paddock sweeper to keep their grazing areas clean – as well as to more efficiently collect manure for future compost.” 

While the couple have sourced and even built some of the equipment and machinery needed to process the compost, some big items remain to be purchased. 

“We’re very fortunate that the Exmoor National Park Authority is awarding Exmoor Compost a £2,500 grant from the Partnership Fund to help us acquire some vital equipment over the next few months. This includes a bag sealer and compost turner. At the moment we’re still bagging, writing out and tying the bags by hand. The grant is a great help at a critical time.

“We’re excited to be farming in this way to help safeguard the endangered Exmoor pony breed and also provide an important, sustainable local resource for gardeners and growers across the area. It’s good to be doing our bit for the environment and we appreciate everyone who is helping us to turn a Covid nightmare into something positive.”

Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park Authority, said, “We are pleased to be able to support this innovative idea to not only support the work of the Exmoor Pony Project but also to recognise the enterprising nature of many organisations across Exmoor. We initially gave a grant to the project from our Covid-19 Response Fund and have now awarded this Partnership Fund grant in a bid to sustain the  Exmoor Pony Project into the longer term. Our Partnership Fund this year is prioritising applications from not-for-profit groups for project ideas that can help to look after the National Park, engage  people with its special qualities and help with the area’s recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We wish the Exmoor Pony Project and Exmoor Compost scheme well in the future.”

More information can be found at www.WildPonyWhispering.co.uk. 

Exmoor Hill Farming Network cake sales raise over £1,200 for Macmillan!

The Exmoor Hill Farming Network is an independent, 100% farmer-led organisation which operates as a Community Interest Company (CIC).

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has had a fundamental impact on the Network’s activities, many of which have come to a halt. However, the Network has remained open, based remotely and available to members as a source of trusted information and – at the forefront –responding to the needs of the farming community here on Exmoor and in the Greater Exmoor area.

As regular readers of Exmoor Magazine will know, one of the Network’s Peer Support Groups which tackles rural isolation and mental health has continued throughout this pandemic and has met fortnightly via zoom since April. The Exmoor Women in Farming Group meet from the comfort of their own homes, engaging with over 40 individuals to date. The meetings have ranged from women’s health talks, to guest speakers from other rural parts of the UK talking about their farming opportunities and challenges and it is generally an opportunity for members to talk about their experiences too.

Network Office Katherine Williams, says, “Earlier this autumn it was suggested to support Macmillan Cancer Support as we had held a very successful coffee morning last September. After a discussion ensuring Covid measures could be observed, it was agreed to hold two cake sales at Blackmoor Gate and Cutcombe Market livestock markets during October by kind permission of Exmoor Farmers. The cake sales were overseen by myself and members of the Women in Farming Group. The cake sales were also accompanied by two prize draw meat hampers. The efforts of our farming communities raised a grand total of £1,204.80 for the charity, which works to provide specialist healthcare, information and financial support to people affected by cancer.

“We wanted to show our support in these unusual circumstances as this charity is close to many of our hearts in one way or another. This year we had to change our direction and ensure whatever we did was Covid secure. Everyone was very generous with their donations and we are exceedingly thankful for the support the farming community gave to this worthy cause’.”

PHOTO (taken before 5 November):  Representatives from Exmoor Women in Farming Group who dedicated their time to assist with the sales. Left to right: Catherine Cowling, Lesley Nicholas and Samantha Lole.

West Country Blacksmiths shortlisted for 2020 GAGA Construction Awards

Exmoor-based bespoke metalwork specialists West Country Blacksmiths have had a project at the Courthouse Mews development in Somerton shortlisted for the 2020 GAGA Construction Awards.

The awards celebrate the design and construction of bespoke metalwork both nationally and internationally. The work of West Country Blacksmiths has been shortlisted alongside projects including The Wave in Bristol, Luton Airport entrance canopy, the Giant Eagle of Triberg, Germany and the new training complex of the Premier league football club Brighton & Hove Albion FC.

The metalwork was produced as part of the development of the former Courthouse and Market Place buildings, which have been tastefully converted and extended to provide eight apartments and a two-bedroom house and dedicated Art Care Education (ACE arts) space in the heart of Somerton. The metalwork was bespoke designed and made to complete this development and included a fully automated gate with decorative archway, over 53 metres of wall-top railings, six Juliette balconies, handrails, balcony railings and a bench.

Each piece of handcrafted metalwork is galvanised with a unique acid etch finish to offer long-term, low-maintenance protection.

The blacksmiths used a range of skills and procedures to produce the metalwork include laser scanning and Cad designing, CNC profiling, forge work and highly accurate quality fabrication.

The concept for the metalwork was the brainchild of Frank Martin (Trustee and founder of ACE arts), who said, “Finding creative partners who are able to deliver on my personal inspiration is a rare talent, which West Country Blacksmiths have. As Creative Director my design brief was inspired by through mirror images, and it has become a reality in a medium I am not usually associated with. Everyone at Courthouse Mews is delighted with West Country Blacksmiths’ work, a unique and stunning finish to the development that has helped to  Somerton become “one of the most creative, contemporary and forward-thinking towns in Somerset.”

The award has now been running for 26 years, with previous winners including The Eden Project in Cornwall and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester.

This is the second successive nomination for these awards for the craftsmen of West Country Blacksmiths – after having two bespoke projects shortlisted from six projects for the 2019 design and detail award. Sadly, they missing out on the award that time, which was given to dePaor for the Pálás Cinema in Galway. However, 2019 was still a successful year for the blacksmiths who won the  highly acclaimed Staircase of the Year Award at the Architects’ Journal  for a bespoke staircase project completed for a property in the nature reserve of Sartfell Mountain on the Isle of Man in partnership with Foster Lomas Architects.

West Country Blacksmiths company director Kieren Roberts said, “We are very grateful of the recognition of our work. We are privileged to have an incredibly talented team and together we work extremely hard to produce metalwork to the very best standard regardless of the size and type of project. We thank everyone at the Courthouse Mews development; they were a privilege to work with and we are excited by our future opportunities. As a small company this type of recognition among some of the country’s biggest construction projects is unbelievable. The support we get from the local community is amazing and our focus is to serve the community of Somerset, producing the very best possible metalwork service.”

West Country Blacksmiths are based at the National Trust forge in Allerford on the edge of Exmoor. They produce bespoke metalwork locally and nationally, and their work can be seen in prestigious locations such as Kensington Palace. The team also continue to offer a traditional ‘blacksmiths shop’ whereby they repair and restore items for the local community.

Lifeline grants for Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, Landmark Theatre and Queen’s Theatre

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is celebrating with the news that it will receive £58k from the Government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund. Also benefiting from the fund are the Queen’s and Landmark theatres, which together will receive £550k.

The Museum has faced a very challenging year in 2020. It closed in March in line with government guidelines so the grand re-opening, following the refurbishment and the new wing extension, was put on hold.

The Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple and the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe have been unable to operate fully since March as a result of Covid restrictions. But following this week’s announcement that they will be awarded funding, Selladoor – the company that runs the theatres – has announced it intends to lift the curtains and re-open in time for Christmas, with full Covid safety measures in place.

Museum Curator, Alison Mills, says, “This funding is excellent news for the Museum and all the staff and volunteers. It will help to make up for the income we have lost this year to date, and enable us to get fully up and running. Although the pandemic continues to affect all our lives we hope to extend our opening hours soon by recruiting some temporary staff. We will also be investing in digital services, so people can enjoy our exhibitions and learn about our collections virtually.”

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden says: “I am delighted that the cultural heart of North Devon is being supported by this much-needed lifeline. Our museum and theatres are very important to our community; as we saw a few years ago when the then theatre operator went into administration. The amount of people who rallied around to save the theatres from closure was astounding. We are lucky to have such fantastic facilities here and we must support them as much as we can during these difficult times.”

David Hutchinson, Chief Executive of Selladoor Worldwide says “Whilst many theatres across the UK are still closed due to the challenges brought by Covid-19, Selladoor are once again opening the doors of The Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple and The Landmark in Ilfracombe to ensure the local communities of North Devon have access to live theatre, and this festive entertainment will be provided within a safe, socially-distanced environment.”

The museum was able to re-open safely on 12 August. Admission is free, but to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, an advanced booking system has been introduced to help manage visitor numbers so social distancing can be maintained and ensure the museum experience is a safe and welcoming one.

All visitors are being asked to book a timed arrival slot in advance on the Museum website between the revised opening hours of 11am-3pm (last admittance at 2pm), Wednesday to Friday.

Additional events at the theatres are yet to be confirmed so keep an eye out for the latest announcements and for further information or to book tickets visit the Queens Theatre website or follow the Queen’s Theatre and The Landmark on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Book your tickets for Rosemoor Glow

Tickets for Glow at Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Gardens are now on sale to the general public as the world’s leading gardening charity prepares to light up its gardens this winter for magical events throughout the festive season.

With many festive events cancelled, now is the time to treat yourself to something special. The winter at Rosemoor in North Devon is always one of the most beautiful sights in all seasons. In addition to its daytime beauty, once again visitors can see the garden transformed at night too by innovative colour-changing lighting into a magical festive trail around the trees, shrubs, water features and sculptures.

With the safety of visitors and staff its foremost priority in these challenging times, the RHS has put in place a number of measures to ensure everyone can enjoy the events with confidence. These include mandatory advance booking, one-way routes around the gardens and limits on numbers at any one time. All four RHS Gardens have recently been awarded Visit England’s ‘Good to Go’ certification, an industry-standard mark of reassurance that they are carefully following all the latest government guidance on Covid-19.

“We are thrilled to be able to welcome our visitors to Rosemoor for Glow this year, and we can’t wait to share the beautiful new displays we have planned,” says Helena Pettit, RHS Director of Gardens and Shows. “Glow is a highlight of the winter months for us and our visitors, and we have worked hard to ensure that these will be fun, enchanting and safe events for all the family.”

Taking visitors along a new (one-way) route, Rosemoor Glow 2020 will include the Winter Garden (back by popular demand), the Cool Garden with its rippling water rills, the Long Borders, through the Cottage Garden for the first time and once again down to The Lake with its incredible reflections. Also for the first time, there will be interactive sections as well as a few ‘light’ surprises along the way.

Please see the website for the selected dates between 19 November to 2 January. During Glow evenings the gardens will be open until 8pm to maximise the effects of the lighting and, on those days, normal garden entry includes Glow (free for RHS members). In this way you can enjoy a full day out seeing the gardens and sculptures by day and then also Rosemoor Glow by night.

Hot and cold refreshments will be available at various points around the trail and the Rosemoor Shop will also remain open until 8pm for Christmas Trees and decorations as well as exclusive RHS gift ranges.

Other events taking place:

Rosemoor’s extremely popular annual Winter Sculpture Exhibition will be up and running from 12 November to 31 January. Last year, record numbers of visitors enjoyed the eclectic mix of exhibits that are set against the backdrop of the garden. This year, the exhibition has been freshened up with a high proportion of new artists. Most of the sculptures featured in the exhibition are for sale.

To make the most of a visit to Rosemoor there is also a special day-time seasonal Garden Trail (one for autumn and one for winter) which includes many specimens from our national collection of hollies and featuring key highlighted plants and shrubs around the garden.

Every visit and every purchase supports the charitable work of the RHS. Normal garden admission applies (free for RHS members). The Garden itself is open every day (except Christmas Day) 10am-5pm. Tickets for Glow must be booked online. Routes are fully accessible and festive refreshments will be available. For further information, visit rhs.org.uk/Rosemoor.

Somerset Wildlife Trust: Somerset Nature Connections project

Somerset Nature Connections is a new partnership project being run by Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Mendip Hills and the Quantock Hills and Blackdown Hills AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, it will support local communities and individuals most  vulnerable to mental health issues, providing better access to nature spaces to encourage and increase self-management for individuals, and develop a network of skilled volunteers who can support communities for the longer term.

The project will also work be working closely with mental health charities Mind and Chard WATCH. Significant funding has also been received from Hinkley Point C Community Impact Mitigation (CIM) Fund and Somerset County Council. Jim Hardcastle, Mendip Hills AONB Manager, said, “Somerset is blessed in having three AONBs that can be used as a ‘natural health service’ for the community. The combination of the AONB teams and Somerset Wildlife Trust working together for the benefit of the community in Somerset is really powerful and will have a long-lasting legacy.”

Jolyon Chesworth, Head of Engagement at Somerset Wildlife Trust, says: “There are individuals and communities in Somerset who stand to benefit hugely from time spent in natural spaces, but access is often limited. It’s vital that we support people and communities in need in these particularly challenging times, and that we do something positive and long term to empower particularly vulnerable people or groups to connect with the project so they don’t feel isolated and alone, and can meet people in a safe, supported, nature-based environment to self-manage their mental health.”

The project will run a targeted programme delivered in six-week blocks at various locations across the county for people experiencing poor mental health. The programme will include practical outdoor activities, including conservation tasks, wildlife walks and natural crafts, adapted to the meet the specific needs of each group in order to help them connect with nature. Volunteers will be recruited and trained to provide peer support to those who may need extra help to attend activities and to access mainstream nature volunteer groups. Others will volunteer to provide health and wellbeing support at local community groups. The project will work with local community groups and support staff working with people with a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems. This may include people with learning disabilities, long term health conditions, carers and isolated older people. As part of this, the project will increase group leaders’ knowledge and skills to deliver outdoor wellbeing-enhancing activities.

FIND OUT MORE
W: somersetwildlife.org
Twitter: SomersetWT
Facebook: @Somersetwildlifetrust
Instagram @somersetwt

Photo by Matt Sweeting

Halsway Manor House breaks at the heart of the British Folk scene

If you fancy a last-minute holiday or change of scene for half term and enjoy a place with a story, Halsway Manor could be for you.

Halsway Manor is the National Centre for Folk Arts, a charity offering residential folk music courses throughout the year. But Covid restrictions have taken a toll on the programming and while some of the dance and European music events are postponed the venue is offering out its rooms for holiday accommodation. This is a rare treat to stay in a venue with history at the heart of the English Folk Music Scene.

Halsway Manor, with its medieval origins, offers simple, affordable and homely accommodation in beautiful building and grounds. You can expect the same warm and friendly welcome as course participants do with breakfast and evening dinner served in the dining room. The bedrooms recently received a makeover thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund award. The library is also open to guests with its decorative Tudor ceilings and collection of local folklore and music.

The Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are the backdrop for Halsway Manor, making it a perfect base for cycling, walking and nature holidays. You can explore the local villages, footpaths throughout the Quantocks and Exmoor, and the West Somerset coastline all of which are within easy reach. There is plenty of space for arts and crafts activities. And after your day’s adventures you can relax by the fire and enjoy a drink in the panelled bar. Single, double and family rooms are available and each has its own bathroom. With so much space the Manor lends itself to these times and has Visit England’s Good to Go mark.

At a time when music venues and performing artists are struggling this is a great way to support this arts charity which supports musicianship and helps to keep traditional English Folk music scene alive.

To book a stay at Halsway Manor visit www.halswaymanor.org.uk tel 01984 618 274.

Rights of Way Report highlights effects of extreme weather on Exmoor’s ROWs

Hundreds of trees down over paths, blocked drains and exceptionally wet and windy weather were among the growing challenges recorded in September’s’ Rights of Way and Access Annual Report prepared by Exmoor National Park Authority. The network remains in good condition, with over 92 per cent of paths surveyed rated as ‘open and easy to use’, but the Authority warns that increasing extreme weather due to climate change has started to take its toll.

The frequent storms and flash flooding events of last winter saw a record 233 fallen trees cleared from paths and maintenance needed to 1,023 drains. All major works to Rights of Way now include increased drain capacity as standard to improve the network’s resilience to flooding and reduce erosion.

The summer months provide little relief, with the extended growing season meaning there is a a need to cut back vegetation twice or more a season, whereas in past decades just once had been enough. This year alone 159km of paths were cut back – an average year.

Despite this, Exmoor’s Rights of Way network remained in excellent condition at the start of the season, in time for record numbers of visitors to visit the area following the easing of lockdown measures.

Estimates based on STEAM data suggest that visitors enjoy 1.59 million walks in a typical year, and this year that figure would have been much higher. This underscores the value of the Rights of Way network to tourism, which contributes nearly £130 million to the local economy and accounts for around 60 per cent of employment.

Dan Barnett, Exmoor National Park’s Access & Recreation Manager, said: “The rights of way network has played such an important role in people’s lives this year, bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air at a time when so many other freedoms were off-limits. It’s testament to the team that in spite of the terrible weather last year they largely kept on top of things and we began this year in a good place.

“But with climate change we can expect more extreme weather and things are only going to get worse. Without further investment this will make it increasingly difficult to maintain the high standards so many walkers and riders come here to enjoy.”

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Our rights of way are just one small example of the profound way climate change is threatening our National Parks – the beauty and wildlife they were designated for and that millions flock to experience every year. These special places are also cornerstones for vital, life-supporting ecosystem services, such as clean air and water, healthy soils, flood alleviation and carbon sequestration.

“We’re working tirelessly with landowners and partners to restore nature in Exmoor, make it more resilient and improve the way land is managed. This will not only benefit people’s enjoyment of the National Park, but also play a vital part in responding to the nature and climate emergencies for future generations and the planet.”

0345 224 1203