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Widecombe History Group Talk February 2000

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Widecombe History Group Talk on Dartmoor - A land under pressure and its sites and sounds


SPEAKER

Brian Maddock’s illustrated talk on :-

"Dartmoor - A land under pressure and its sites and sounds".

This was a talk that can only be described as informative, entertaining and presented in a very unique style.

A wonderful selection of colour slides blended with appropriate birdsong, country sounds, music and atmosphere and an excellent commentary.

He commenced his show with early morning scenes and the natural sounds from that part of the day, progressing through the day to dusk, showing views and habitats and examples of the effect of man's activities on the moors.

This was presented in two sections:- first....... sights and sounds of Dartmoor.

second... Dartmoor - a land under preasure.

Sights and Sounds

Yarner Woods and its wonderful selection of wildlife. 375 acres of mainly woodland and the adjoining heathland of Trendlebeer Common. He joked about the "SBJ", which stands for a ‘Small Brown Job’, which is the way some people describe many of the small brown birds we see during the year when perhaps we are not too sure of their correct identification! Flycatchers, warblers, pidgeons, chiff-chaff, tits, robins and dunnock even the night-jar, and of course the cuckoo, Dartmoor is a haven for anyone interested in our flora and fauna. If you are lucky you may see or hear the Roe Deer in the woods thereabouts.

Wortleberries a plenty in the undergrowth, and many wild flowers.

Over 40 pairs of Spotted Flycatchers nest regularly at Yarner each year.

Brian remarked how important it is to visit these areas at different times of the day and year, to get the different experiences. Dawn chorus, skylarks during the day and the evening bringing yet another period of song.

Stone chat, wheatear, curlew, plover (lapwing or peewit), ringed ousel, ravens, crows all nesting on the open moors.

Each habitat has its own distinctive flowers, insects, birds and mammals.

Fields, hedges, woods, heathlands, tors, cliffs, quarries, coasts, all have their individual wildlife.

100 inches or so of rain falls on Dartmoor each year and that keeps the springs, streams and rivers and leats, alive and vibrant for animals and people alike. In 1762 Devonport leat was built, 21 miles in length, from its beginning where it leaves the West Dart to Devonport. It was instigated, because the people of Plymouth would not share their water with the then named ‘Docks’ the leat is still running today. Ironically the leat now runs into Burrator Reservoir constructed in 1898 and extended 1928, to supply all of the modern day Plymouth and Devonport with water. The hydro electric station at Mary Tavy was mentioned, the Finch’s Foundry was also mentioned originally a woollen mill and 1814 Finch took it over for a foundry making tools for the farmers and quarrymen etc of the area. Water being used as a means of power. Tin mines and mills of all kinds needed water for power to work their waterwheels. It was also used for separating the tin from the other sand etc, due to the density of the tin, that settled in the bottom of the filtering beds and the other sand washed on. Haytor granite and its granite railway running gently to Stover Canal. There were several granite quarries on Dartmoor and the folklore and music of the moors was also mentioned. Dartmoor Folk Festival still aims to keep those traditions alive held each August at South Zeal. Widecombe Fair had to be included in his presentation, held annually on the second Tuesday in September each year - still a ‘Real Traditional Country Fair’ in Brian’s opinion something to be cherished. Widecombe Church - ‘The Cathedral of the Moor’ - and its six bells ringing out over the countryside, another beautiful rural treasure, currently in need of massive refurbishment, an appeal now running for donations to cover the £200,000 needed.

Oak, ash, hazel, are just some of the traditional British trees, they are all still there in our woods, the oak was coppiced years ago and used for charcoal making, to be used for the tin industry, and the bark used for the tanning of leather.

The second half of Brian’s presentation was about:-

Dartmoor - a land under pressure with an interview with John Wier of the D.N.P.

Erosion is one problem facing Dartmoor, this can be caused by many different agents.

What does Dartmoor mean to you? Different things to different people. A place for a Sunday drive, a place for a family picnic or an open space for a good walk to explore those ‘off the beaten track’ places? Now there are up to 10 million day visits to Dartmoor each year, and the success of Dartmoor as a place to visit has all added to the erosion problems. The D.N.P. headquarters is at Bovey Tracey, and there are also information centres at various places around the moors. 1949 saw the creation of The National Park and Access Act. The aims of The Park Authority are to enhance the landscape, and to safeguard the economic wellbeing of those who live and work in the National Park. The Park covers 200 square miles, a great open space in South West Britain. Dartmoor contains the greatest intensity of Prehistioric remains in Europe. This has survived no doubt due to the strength and durability of the local Dartmoor Granite from which so many were constructed. The tors, magnificent granite outcrops make for a unique landscape. Dartmoor escaped the glaciation of ‘The Ice Age’, so the landscape is the effect of thousands of years weathering and erosion, all leading to the special appeal that the moors have for so many. The Moor Care Programme has done a lot of good in the last few years, Common Market Money being used to help pay for remedial work at various places, including the track leading to Grimspound.

Recreational pressure is increasing, and that, in conjunction with the weather, all plays a part in the current ‘wear and tear’. It costs a lot in money and rural skills to reinstate damage done. Housing is a problem, the area is a mecca for people to retire to, and the houses in the surrounding towns and villages are in demand, not only for retirement homes but also for second or holiday homes. Housing for local people is a major consideration as property that comes on the market makes far in access of what local people can afford. The military presence at Okehampton, Merrivale, Willsworthy amounting to some 33.000 acres of Dartmoor, used for military training and at times "Live Firing" is a very controversial subject.

Live firing means no entrance to people when that is taking place, and visitors must take notice of the red flags when they are flying, some people feel that this is contrary to the principle of a N.P. Walkers must be aware that they may come across metal objects as a result of this, these should not be touched.

The china clay works also intrude into the Park. China Clay is a valuable commodity, important for employment and the rural economy used for ceramics and medicine and cosmetics and much more. Balance has to struck between these enterprises and the effect that they have on the environment. This has created such an alien landscape that once a complete Dr Who film series was filmed there. China Clay is in fact decomposed Granite so it is very much part of Dartmoor.

In 1930 a policy of afforestation began. Soussons and Fernworthy were the two main areas. These are now being felled and it is intended to replant with the indigenous species, liken those mentioned in the first part of the address. Water supply is as mentioned an important requisite for life and the last big reservoir built on Dartmoor was at Meldon in 1972. Roadford just north-west of Dartmoor is the most recent in Devon, but may have set a precedent that no more will be built actually on the moors!

Recreational use in conjunction with the traffic this generates, is making life difficult for D.N.P.Authority as people like to have the security of their car to return to after a day on the moors. To get people to leave their cars at home and use public transport is the ideal solution but public transport is poor, so urgent thought is needed to find good alternatives, suggestions are welcome!!

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