Working for Dartmoor National Park Authority means that you have access to a huge wealth of knowledge through staff who are Dartmoor experts, or experts in a particular field or more often than not experts in both! However, it is important that you remind yourself about your role and critically about the impact that has on the work of colleagues, the Authority and of course Dartmoor! That is why annual staff ‘away’ days are so important.
Most recently the Conservation and Communities Directorate undertook a ‘walk, talk and task’ day to Hawns and Dendles – a 200 acre site, owned by the National Park Authority, on the southern edge of Dartmoor, near Cornwood. This site was purchased in 1997 and has in that time been gradually recovered from a spur of conifer plantation, jutting out on to the open moor, to recovering moorland with mixed broad leaf and critically with areas of archaeological importance now revealed.
Starting with an introduction from the senior ecologist, the staff got an understanding as to the management of the site (natural regeneration, using Dartmoor ponies and, where appropriate, intervention from the National Park’s Works Team and Rangers) and the significance with regard barbastelle bats, blue ground beetles, sausage lichens (a beard lichen which only grows in very clean air) and a rich swathe of heather.
Then there was further discussion around the site management and in particular in the context of the wider landscape with regard working with the neighbouring landowners – Natural England, Dartmoor Preservation Association and of course the local farmers and Dartmoor Commoners.
Our walk then took us through semi-ancient woodland and passed several points of archaeological interest including Dr Foxes garden. This is an Edwardian ‘folly’ where Dr Fox created a summer house on island alongside Broadall lake (don’t be fooled in these parts a lake is a river and derives from the old Dartmoor meaning of stream rather than a body of water!) and then every summer his man-servants would ferry a piano, his guests and probably a bottle of gin for a day/evening of entertainment. As we looked down to the island where he also planted exotic and rare rhododendron and roses, the mizzle made us move on so we felt that a follow-up staff day in Summer might be appropriate to recreate the ‘Garden’ in its full glory!
We then crossed the ‘corn ditch’ which shows where the medieval boundary was between the farmed land and the open moor. We then saw evidence of further buildings and looking across the moor we could see how they were built at specific contours. Further on, we came across a burial mound or cairn which contained a cist, a box-like structure made from granite slabs. This cist had evidently been opened or exposed many years before but we were able to discuss the incredible finds from Whitehorse Hill. Finally, no trip onto Dartmoor (particularly in the Autumn) is complete without a myth or legend and so we heard about Old Hannah, the witch of Dendles Woods!
After a quick lunch, we recognised that whilst looking at and discussing the ecology, archaeology, access management, use of volunteers and practical management was important, we were here to help with some practical work. In driving rain we started piling up brash from previously felled Sitka trees (it helps when you have a British chainsaw champion as one of your Works Team!) that had regenerated in the last 15 years; putting up guards around broadleaf saplings and helping the Works Team and Rangers with a variety of other site management tasks. Our recently acquired waterproofs, supported by Sprayway, were fully road-tested as we experienced the best and the worst of days with torrential downpours, clear skies and sap and needles from the Sitka.
With the brash piled and all the guards in place, the team started walking back to the vehicles and to reflect that it is days like these that are essential for staff to see the range and breadth of the work on the ground, how we all work together as one big team for the benefit of all of Dartmoor’s special qualities and of course to remind ourselves of the depth of knowledge and experience that Dartmoor National Park Authority can call upon.