Friday, 25 March 2011

Dartmoor has been going up in flames in recent days...

...according to the DNPA website. I'm reasonably certain that no WITC blog readers are Dartmoor Commoners with the rights to swale the moorland. However, just in case, and for the benefit of everyone else, we dedicate this blog entry to the National Park Authority's Swaling Code of Conduct.

The Legal Requirements

The burning, not only of heather and grass, but also gorse, bracken and bilberry, is controlled by the Heather and Grass, etc (Burning) Regulations 1986.

Burning is only allowed between: 1 October - 15 April in upland areas. The National Park Authority recommends no burning after 31 March to prevent harm to nesting birds.

Outside these dates burning is allowed only under licence issued by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Permission of the owner must be gained.

At least 24 hours

but no more than 7 days notice of intent to burn must be given in writing to the owners and occupiers of the land concerned and persons in charge of adjacent land.

You must not start burning heather, grass, gorse, bracken or bilberry between sunset and sunrise.

You must ensure that sufficient people and equipment are on hand to control the burn.

You must take all reasonable precautions to prevent injury or damage.

You must not cause a nuisance through the creation of smoke. This is an offence under the Clean Air Act 1956.

You must contact English Nature if burning on a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Under the Dartmoor Commoners' Council's Regulations, arising from the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, no person or local Commoners' Association shall burn moorland where heather is present on the commons exceeding an area of 9000 square metre at intervals of less than 12 years, nor where the distance between burns in any one year is less than 150 metres. No Person or local Commoners' Association shall burn moorland where dead grass, bracken or gorse is present on any common land unit exceeding 50 acres (20 hectares) or 25% of the area of that common land unit which ever shall be the less and such burning shall take place at intervals of no less than 3 years.

Points to Remember


Burn in accordance with an approved long-term Fire Plan for your area, drawn up to meet agricultural and environmental objectives.

The Fire Plan should include a programme of essential burning on a sound rotation basis and include the creation of firebreaks where necessary.

Plan individual burns sensibly by relating size of area to manpower availability, safety requirements and forecasted weather predictions.

Plan to avoid burning at weekends or public holidays if possible.


Burn when there is a gentle breeze.

Make an early start.

Stop and re-assess if conditions change.


Choose with care the best spot to start the fire, to ensure the fire doesn't spread too quickly.

Burn small areas at a time, paying particular attention to the optimum width of the burn.


Use firebreaks, choosing natural boundaries for the burn wherever possible.


Have sufficient manpower and equipment. Appoint one person to be in charge.

Landscape and Wildlife

Take account of wildlife habitats. Avoid spoiling the landscape and environment.


Keep them informed and take account of their property and interests.

Public Safety

Avoid creating hazards to road users and the public.


A breach of the Heather and Grass etc (Burning) Regulations 1986 may on conviction result in a fine of up to £1000.

Source: Dartmoor National Park Authority (

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Forest

'Gaps in forest' and moor gates. LH and RH edges. Right up there with the TV mast is another vital man-made feature seemingly purpose built for bearings. Fernworthy Forest. It is a familiar part of the skyline for much of the northern and central moor. The dark shape and sweeping curves hugging the horizon.

On our most recent walk, whoisthechallenger found themselves up close and personal with the boundaries of the forest. Its not an area overwhelmed with letterboxes, but its a great area to explore - full of hidden corners.

Our route took us to the West and South of the forest above Teignhead Farm and across the South Teign River. Climbing to White Ridge and Assycombe Hill and descending to Hurston Ridge. To our right, the rolling, hazy landscape of moorland. To our left, a 40 foot high barrier of Spruce. On a day like today - with strong winds forecast - tall, dark green walls finally given texture, movement and noise.

Owned by the State funded Forestry Commission (for now at least...) The history of the Forestry Commision began some 16 miles away at Eggesford in North Devon where their first woodland was seeded in December 1919. Fernworthy was planted - as with many of the FC forests - shortly after World War 1. After the war, timber stocks were so depleted and demand so high that the commission was given a great deal of freedom to acquire and plant trees under the Forestry Act.

A wander around the coniferous forest at Fernworthy seems to support the idea that the Foresters and Foremen were determined and ruthless people. Ancient artifacts, farmsteads and River valleys were not going to stop them. They have always had their critics, but the recent discussions about selling off forests to the private sector has reminded a lot of people about how much we treasure these wooded areas.