Tag Archives: featured

A call to explore Exmoor’s hidden night world

Each Spring since 2005, the Exmoor Society, in partnership with the Exmoor National Park Authority, has held a prestigious Spring Conference to explore and discuss themes of importance to the National Park. The Covid pandemic has led to the cancelling of the 2021 conference and instead the Society is putting on four free one-hour webinars in May on the theme of ‘Nocturnal Exmoor’.  Each webinar will include a keynote speaker, supported by case studies and opportunities for questions for participants during and after the events.

  • 7 May: Nocturnal Wildlife. Keynote speaker on nocturnal mammals, Professor Fiona Matthews; case studies on bats and beavers.
  • 14 May: Night and Day. Tim Dee on bird migration; case studies on night on the farm; night through history.
  • 21 May: Dark Arts.  Author Tiffany Francis Baker; case studies by an artist and children’s author.
  • 28 May: The Night Sky. Astronomer Jo Richardson; case studies on Exmoor’s Dark Skies Festival; tips on night photography.

Setting the scene, Trustee Nigel Hester,said: “Exmoor has a particularly rich wildlife influenced by its geology, topography and geographical position on the South West coast. It is noted for its bats, supporting 16 of the 17 known breeding species in the UK, its butterflies including the rare Heath and Brown fritillaries and for many bird species that inhabit the internationally rare habitats of upland heath, blanket bog and western oak woods. However, a decline in species, as the UK State of Nature Report shows, has not escaped even Exmoor’s wealth of wildlife in the last decades, for example, the loss of curlew, ring ouzel and merlin.  At the same time, Exmoor’s low levels of light pollution were recognised in 2011, with the National Park being designated as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.  Many species are well adapted to foraging and hunting at night and the dark skies will, no doubt, benefit these, including insects, birds and mammals.  But we need to find out more about them and the pressures they face as well as help people to enjoy the night sky.”

Recognising the element of experiment, Rachel Thomas, Chairman, said: “This is a new venture for the Society but webinars are part of the way forward in reaching a wider audience.  National Parks are special places, each Park having a unique character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic values.  By concentrating on Nocturnal Exmoor we can demonstrate how all these assets can be protected and yet increase biodiversity and resilience to climate change.”

For further details and to book a place, please email The Exmoor Society: info@exmoorsociety.com or visit www.exmoorsociety.com.

PHOTO: Moonrise from Martinhoe by Chrissie Wiggins.

The launch of the Minehead Gift Card: an easy way to support local businesses

What a great idea! The new Minehead Gift Card is available to buy, offering an easy way to support local businesses and keep money locked into Minehead.

Cards can be purchased from £5-£500 and spent with a variety of businesses in the town, on shopping, food and drink, accommodation, leisure and attractions and services.

One of the places where the Minehead Gift Card can be spent is The Lighting Company, an established lighting and homeware business with a flagship store in Minehead. Glenn Ross is from The Lighting Company and says, “As for all businesses, managing the uncertainty of lockdown has been a challenge. In this third lockdown, we’ve taken it as an opportunity to completely refresh our Minehead store, develop new ranges, work on photography and upskill staff – the majority of whom have been working throughout.

“We employ over 20 people locally, and are passionate about supporting Minehead. The Minehead Gift Card will keep money local, and that can only be a good thing. Because it can be spent with lots of different businesses in the area, there is that security too. Money spent locally stays local and that benefits everyone.

“There has been an increase in interest for British-made products and, after the first lockdown, that support from locals was fantastic. People are shopping here in Minehead rather than driving to other towns and cities.

“We’re really excited to have customers back in store again from April 12th. While online is a really important channel for us, a presence on the high street is vital. Customers want to look, feel and touch the products, guided by an experienced member of staff.”

Janet Thompson is the founder of Grown Up Marshmallows, a local artisan producer of gourmet marshmallows, and opened a shop on The Avenue in Minehead a week before the first lockdown. She says, “Our product is created in small batches in Exmoor National Park, using fruit we’ve grown ourselves, and packaged with 100% recyclable, biodegradable, compostable material. Creating a local product was important to us. With the lockdown, we had to adapt our business, supplying hamper companies, refining our product and creating items like the toasting kit, and actually last year was our best year yet.

“All of our boxes of marshmallow have the Exmoor flag, so they’re ideal for tourists but we’re really lucky to have experienced that local support, too. Without locals, we don’t have a business. We hope that people will buy the Minehead Gift Card to show their support for our town.”

The Minehead Gift Card became a reality following a £100,000 grant from Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) through the Emergency Town Centre Recovery Fund, led by a steering group set up by Minehead Business Improvement District (BID) of local business owners and leaders from Minehead Town Council, Somerset West and Taunton and Somerset County Council.

The funding has meant that the scheme has been opened up to businesses from right across Minehead, including the Alcombe Fish Bar. Jill Foster from the Alcombe Fish Bar said the gift card will also be useful for people wanting to buy gifts for those living in the area:

“I think the Minehead Gift Card is a great idea. I had someone ring me from Nottingham wanting to buy a voucher as a gift for family that live locally. The Minehead Gift Card is an easy way for someone to give a nice gift. Locals might also buy it for themselves, so they can treat themselves to a takeaway.

“People are starting to put local as their first choice, and realising that they can get what they want locally, often cheaper too. The Minehead Gift Card is going to be especially important for us to support those businesses that have been closed during lockdown, it will be really beneficial for our area.”

The new Minehead Gift Card is part of the award-winning Town and City Gift Cards programme from fintech Miconex, with over 60 schemes across the UK and Ireland, including Bath, Exeter and Tavistock. Colin Munro is the managing director of Miconex and said the gift card makes it easy to shop local in Minehead: “We all want to support local businesses after this latest lockdown and shopping locally is a simple way to do that. Over 86% of Generation Z shoppers have purchased a gift card and 81% of people are supporting local businesses more than before the pandemic. With the Minehead Gift Card, people can get out and experience Minehead, visit new businesses they’ve never been into and keep money locked into the area.”

Businesses from across Minehead can still register to be a part of the scheme using the following link: http://bit.ly/mineheadgiftcard or by contacting Richard Robbins at Minehead BID by emailing info@mineheadbid.co.uk

Top: Janet Thompson, founder of Grown Up Marshmallows, and Glenn Ross from The Lighting Company.

 

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.