Friday, 29 April 2016

Battle Plans: Part VII - Ceasefire?

Every year, normally in November, a formal meeting takes place of the Dartmoor Steering Group.  This collective of stakeholders discuss the military involvement within the National Park.  Participants include the National Park Authority, Natural England, English Heritage, the Duchy of Cornwall, Dartmoor Commoners Council and various parties from within the Ministry of Defence (MOD).  I have blogged regularly about their progress since the release of an Integrated Rural Management Plan (IRMP) in which the MOD indicated their approach to maintaining the ranges over a 10 year period 2010 to 2020 (available here). 
In 2010, intentions were made to - amongst many other things - limit the visual impact of the military by:

- Removing 3 flagpoles in the Okehampton Training area, with Yes Tor being a priority for removal, along with Blackdown.  Roos Tor flagpole in the Merrivale range would be removed too.

- Combining Watern Oke Flagpole with a 'look-out'.

- Relocating Walkham Spur flagpole, with a 'look-out' constructed and access works to take place on slopes near Fuges Post and Walkham Head

- Relocating 9 flagpoles including Fordsland Ledge, Steeperton Tor, Kitty Tor and Great Mis.

- Replacing the existing hut at Holming Beam, which (in 2010) was deemed to be shortly nearing the end of it's extended useful life, and considered by many as an eyesore.

A very ambitious action plan, which would almost all have been completed by now, if the original budgets and timescales were accurate and to be believed.  Several objectives have been completed, such as renegotiating consent for the Cramber Tor Training Area, and making repairs to the West Mill Tor/Target Railway track for general vehicle access.

However, it has been the visual intrusion elements that have caused emotions to run high at Steering Group meetings since.  A major sticking point has been the Military Byelaws.  These legally binding agreements affect the boundaries of the ranges, and the locations of established MOD infrastructure within them.  Only a change in the byelaws can result in the removal or relocation of flagpoles or look-outs (huts).  Okehampton byelaws date from 1980.  A byelaw amendment last took place in the Merrivale range in 1995, following an accident that left a girl seriously injured by an unexploded device.  This amendment led to Great Mis Tor and Roos Tor summits being removed from the range, and an incident that resulted. partly, to the notices on all Range Poles and the outlawing of Dartmoor Letterboxes placed in ammo cans.

Visual intrusion is a subject the National Park Authority take very seriously.  In my last blog post, the plantations that interrupt wild skylines are being tackled by the Forestry Commision.  The DNPA planning department are also very strict on wind turbines and development design.

It was with these concerns most prominent that last November's meeting took place at Parke.  Following contact with the DNPA, the minutes for November 2015's Steering Group meeting have finally been uploaded to their website (here).  Here it was confirmed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) that the Dartmoor ranges had recently been considered as 'safe', and due to the small review team and limited Government budgets, any byelaw review was at least a decade away. No flagpoles would move prior to that.  Military byelaws are being reviewed nationwide, but have been prioritised to address areas of safety or security concern first ie: nuclear establishments.  Similarly, all previous work by the DNPA and Duchy of Cornwall to redesign and replace Holming Beam hut was superfluous since their was no longer any MOD budget available to carry out this work.

The Steering Group also learnt that the Ten Tors - an iconic Dartmoor event - would be supported by the MOD for as long as possible. Yet the military would not be committed to sustaining Ten Tors indefinitely, again, due to budgets.  The meeting must have been an uncomfortable reality check.  The group took time to reflect on it's membership, and the declining numbers of stakeholders present in working parties.  The group vowed to encourage participation at forthcoming gatherings.  The next Steering Group meeting is on November 16th 2016.  I'll wait to see who reports back first - the DNPA or MOD.  We all wait to see how this working relationship develops in the future.

Friday, 1 April 2016

A new plan for Dartmoor's forests

April Fools Day was the last of the 28 day consultation period for Dartmoor's new Forest Plan.  'The what?', you may ask.  The Forestry Commission are defining their long term vision for Dartmoor's forests including Bellever, Fernworthy, Soussons and Brimpts.  These four plantations account for about 1.5% of the total National Park area.  Their plan sets out how the woods will be managed for the next decade or so.

Felling, thinning, restocking, species composition, protection of artifacts, public access and recreation, are all covered by the forest plan.  So what have the Forestry Commission (FC) got in store?

Their proposals seek to maintain the Public Forest Estate in line with current forestry policy... blah blah blah... Yawn.

The two key changes that I noted from the Plan are:
1. Up to 10% of the FC's wooded area to become permanent open space through forest clearance. These cleared patches include the high profile Fernworthy forest skyline distantly visible from Postbridge, the plantation on Bellever Tor's Eastern slope, plus Soussons' Southern, roadside edge. Where these trees exist now, moor will eventually take over.  More space for Letterboxing, and less visual impact on the landscape.  Unless you like the dark green walls wrapping over the horizon.

2. Implementation of proposals will "soften and better integrate the woodland with the surrounding landscape".  Proposals such as making a feathered edge to the forests, minimising the contrast between high forest and open moor.  This graded edge will be made up of clusters of trees, regenerating forest and open space.  This will surely affect many Letterbox bearings on forest edges.

It is a long term plan, but we look forward to seeing how this impacts the forests, the Moor and Letterboxing.  As I stated above, consultation closes on April 1st, but more information is available at:

This is not an April Fools.