|A failed Dartmoor venture: Financial and stone ruins of Rattlebrook Peat Works, which shut in the 1930s depression.|
We live in austere times. Uncertainty, stagnation, a response to the great recession, political ideology, "Brexit", whatever the reasons, the UK's national parks are experiencing a purse-string-tightening unlike any other witnessed since their creation.
Central government - through DEFRA - fund our National Parks, and they provide the Park Authorities an annual budget in the form of a grant. For Dartmoor, this grant was cut by 25% between 2010 and 2016. Although it did rise slightly by just over 1.7% in 2017 to a total of around £3.6 million.
Parking fees, other charges, external grant support and interest boost this figure by a further £1 million. The National Park Authority are proud of their ability to source additional and external funding. They have consistently delivered, albeit small, budget surpluses (leftover cash). The park authority does though rely on partnerships and external funding sources to fulfil it's statutory requirements. By joining forces with the 14 other National Parks, Dartmoor can sign commercial agreements (signed by Colombia sportswear and Air Wick air fresheners in recent years) which mutually benefit them all.
A host of partnership agreements are in operation: tackling invasive plants, promoting hill farming, supporting community well-being. Butterfly Conservation, MOD, South West Lakes Trust, Sport England, Devon Wildlife Trust all provide knowledge and finance for ongoing projects. 'Moor Than Meets The Eye' is a partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund that has provided a 5-year, £4 million deal intended to help promote understanding of the landscape and 4000 years of Dartmoor history. Paths and archaeological sites are being regularly maintained by volunteers. The British Mountaineering Council and Devon County Council are fundraising to fix or create Dartmoor paths.
In recent years, we have seen the prospect of pay and display car parking replacing honesty boxes, a decline in Tourist Information services, reduced public transport options, and an economy drive including a 25% reduction in National Park staff. Via the Steering Group, we have seen how MOD austerity has prevented much of the landscape work connected to byelaw reviews from taking place such as flagpole removal and Holming Beam hut replacement.
Last year, the National Park Authority set aside £140,000 worth of reserves for a Public Arts Initiative titled Moor Otters. 100 giant ceramic otters were individually painted and displayed on an 'Otter Trail' around the Moor. It was hoped that through sponsorship, donations and the eventual auction sale of the 100 otters, a healthy return could be made on the investment. Project goals included attracting new visitors to Dartmoor, supporting the local economy, and bringing an environmental message to local schools through a 'Mini Otters' initiative. The whole scheme generated a £62,000 surplus. Perhaps the future will be through many more innovative projects as this.
We return to the first line of this post: Central Government fund our National Parks. DEFRA have pledged funding until 2020. Beyond this, and in light of loss of EU financing following 'Brexit', it remains to be seen how our National Parks will be paid for. Commercial agreements and partnerships will continue to play a part of course. Yet will groups such as Letterboxers be expected to contribute time (through volunteering) or money (through Park entrance fees) to enjoy Dartmoor? Ten Tor teams are encouraged to pay up as they participate. Have Letterboxes been considered as a potential income stream by the DNPA?
The begging bowl is still out there! The Park Authority's own Donate for Dartmoor webpage is still live, and welcomes any sum offered. Get your purses and wallets out!
Key Financial Systems Review, October 2017, Dartmoor National Park Authority
Audited Statement of Accounts - 2016/7, Dartmoor National Park Authority.