A couple of speckled woods

There were several speckled wood butterflies in my garden yesterday. They were still chasing each other around in the autumn sunshine and then occasionally basking on the vegetation.



Reflecting on the year – I think it has been a terrible year for butterflies – I’ve hardly seen any small tortoiseshells, only a couple of red admirals and a handful of painted ladies.

Butterfly Conservation is blaming a cool spring and a slow start to the summer for the low numbers of small tortoiseshell – a species that has already plummeted 73% since the 1970s. To me, a decline of that order can’t solely be explained by poor weather ….

A walk from Haytor

Whilst I like reading and writing about Dartmoor you can’t beat the experience of getting out into Dartmoor. Yesterday the annual 10 Tors cycle began again. We were out on the moor training the new prospective students how to read maps, navigate and walk on Dartmoor. We had six groups of students walking various routes from Haytor to Hound Tor and back.

This is the route I took – it is about 8km long and is a good introductory walk on Dartmoor – it does go up and down and requires walking boots, a compass, map and a coat but nevertheless is an achievable walk which visits a number of interesting places. It starts at the lower Haytor Car Park.

becca-brookThe Becca Brook below Holwell Tor with the recently installed new clapper bridge

greator-rocksGreator Rocks between Holwell Lawn and Houndtor Down

haytor-and-quarriesLooking back to Haytor with its quarries and Holwell Tor in the foreground

hound-torUp to Hound Tor – the Rowan or Mountain Ash trees were covered in their blood red berries

hound-tor-2The south west corner of Hound Tor

black-hillBack across the Becca Brook and up the slope to Black Hill with Haytor again in the background

black-hill-cairnThe Cairn on the summit of Black Hill with the Bovey Valley in the background.

tramwayPart of the ancient tramway on Haytor Down

haytor-quarryThe famous quarry to the northeast of Haytor itself

home-farm-cafeBack down to the car park for a cup of tea and a piece of flapjack with my old friends from Home Farm Cafe.

A very blustery day up on the moor yesterday but we missed out on the rain! I can recommend this walk if you want to recharge your batteries and burn a few calories. The area is rich in archaeology and moor itself is well managed by the Commoners and is  great for wildlife.


A Rhino at Paddington Station

Not only are there rhinos in Exeter (see here) and in Torbay – there is also one at Paddington Station.

This is George – he has been designed in the style of the 1950 railway posters to promote South Devon

There is still time to see the rhinos in Exeter and Torbay (see here for details) – all part of a project to promote their conservation. The rhinos will be out and about until the 9th October.

A day with the Uplands Alliance

Yesterday I spent the day in London at an Uplands  Alliance meeting which was hosted by DEFRA at their Smith Square headquarters. The Uplands Alliance is a loose coalition of all those organisations, individuals and academics with an interest in the uplands of the UK. It is a forum which facilitates discussion and communication rather than a body which produces position statements – see here.

Noble House, Smith Square, Westminster – DEFRA’s home

Following the vote to leave the European Union a huge cloud of uncertainty now hangs over the Uplands – the Uplands Alliance suggest that 31% of upland farm incomes are derived from the Basic Payment Scheme and Countryside Stewardship – without these subsidies many if not most upland farmers would not be able to survive. Following Brexit the Basic Payment Scheme is only guaranteed until 2020 and there is currently a hiatus around new Countryside Stewardship schemes.

The Uplands Alliance’s draft poster detailing the public benefits and issues in the uplands

Prior to the EU referendum two ministers now in DEFRA (Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice) set out their views on agricultural subsidies via their thinktank ‘Fresh Start Project’ (see here). They alluded to the end of Pillar 1 payments (the Basic Payment Scheme) and Pillar 2 monies (Countryside Stewardship) should be focused more on the marginal land to deliver environmental benefits.

I suspect it will be many months before public announcements are made to even indicate options but I think a direction of travel is becoming clearer. At the State of Nature report launch (see here) Andrea Leadsom stated that the current Government wanted to leave the environment and nature in a better state than the ones they inherited. In addition Dieter Helm, the Chair of the Natural Capital Committee has produced a paper on where he thinks agricultural policy should go (see here) – “A third option is to do away with all the subsidies, and instead concentrate any spending on directly purchasing the public goods that public money is paying for. This approach would sort out what the public goods from the land are, and how the natural capital embedded in the landscape could be enhanced.

Agricultural subsidies are going to change maybe radically and it is therefore against this backdrop that the Uplands Alliance met yesterday. There is  real fear in the uplands about the future due to the changes and the uncertainty but there are also real opportunities and if you like reading smoke signals or listening to the jungle drums the wind might be blowing favourably towards the uplands.

londonA room with a view

The meeting was oversubscribed and many who wanted to attend were unable to. We received a short briefing from Professor Mark Reed of Newcastle University who suggested that the uplands needed to take a precautionary approach, that is using the ‘strong evidence that paying for restoration and active management for conservation could provide benefits for wildlife, water quality, reduced flooding and climate. Meanwhile we know little about the effects of large-scale withdrawal of management from peatlands.’

He later tweeted this and note the phrase public money for public goods appearing again.

Minette Batters, the NFU’s Deputy President very articulately made the case for maintaining and supporting farmers in the uplands but didn’t use the phrase public money for public goods.

After lunch Sonia Phippard, the Director General of the Environment and Rural Group at DEFRA spoke, she suggested ‘it will take some time‘ to present new policy and that it was ‘too early to speculate what comes next‘ but nevertheless ‘we need to be radical in our thinking but realistic in our delivery’. She also did say that the hiatus around Countryside Stewardship needed to be sorted out in discussion with the Treasury.

The remainder of the day was spend in 8 breakout groups looking at four different scenarios.

  1. Resilient Land-based Businesses
  2. Vibrant Cultural Landscapes
  3. Local Schemes for Local Outcomes
  4. Outcomes rather than Actions

Each group  considered the impact of their scenario on upland outcomes over the next 25 years from the perspective of scale of both a farm and the landscape. Then each group identified:

  • What are the three most significant human Responses to the scenario and three most significant environmental Results of the scenario?
  • What are the three biggest Risks resulting from the scenario?
  • What are the three most important evidence gaps emerging from the scenario that need to be filled by Research?

It is important to note that these scenarios were not consultation options they were more ‘straw men’ to elicit debate and discussion. I am not going to attempt to summarise these workshop as I only attended one of the 8 but a couple of key messages came out.

The amount of money required in the uplands to keep farming in the hills to farm and deliver with others the public goods is actually much less than many would have thought. Of the £3bn of current CAP money paid to farmers in the UK (via Pillar 1 and Pillar 2) £231m goes to the uplands (around 7.7%). More will be needed to deliver many of the environmental improvements but £231m will keep the hills in active management and therefore support upland farmers and rural communities.

The next key task therefore is engaging with the public to ensure they are aware of the ‘public goods and benefits’ in the uplands i.e. wildlife, water, carbon storage, access, landscape, historic environment etc etc so that when the crunch comes the public are prepared to allow their money to be used to deliver them.

The other noticeable feature of the day was the large amount of consensus between all the participants. This is perhaps not unprecedented but it is unusual as stakeholders in the Uplands have plenty of history when it comes to disagreement and conflict on a number of topics! But at this high level strategic approach there was much agreement, of course the devil will be in the detail and inevitably there will be difficult days ahead.

The meeting was chaired by Michael Winter (from Exeter University) and Julia Aglionby (Foundation for Common Land). At the beginning of the meeting Michael paid tribute to Ian Mercer who died a couple of days ago (see here) and dedicated the meeting to him – most appropriate and I am sure Ian would have been delighted with the outcome.

Parliament where ultimately the fate of the Uplands will be decided




Ian Mercer has died and Dartmoor needs to remember and thank him

Ian Mercer, the champion of Dartmoor for so many years has died. I first met Ian back in 1982 when I was on a Community Programme Scheme with the Devon Trust for Nature Conservation. He was a kind man but a formidable figure. I learnt of his death as Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society kindly informed me and asked me for my views of Ian’s contribution to Dartmoor as she wanted to write an obituary of him.
I last met Ian at the 30th Anniversary of the Dartmoor Magazine in Autumn 2015 (photo courtesy of Julia Wherrell) – that cheeky smile was his trademark. On the left of Ian is his wife Pamela and to the right is Sue Vicars, Editor of the Dartmoor Magazine.
I think it is fair to say that in my opinion Ian has been the most influential figure over the past 50 years in conserving the natural and cultural environments on Dartmoor. Without his tireless work throughout the 1970s and 1980s which finally led to the Dartmoor Commons Act the moor would be a very different place today. I think he basically saved Dartmoor from the fate which parts of Exmoor succumbed to (as described by the MacEwens in National Parks:conservation or cosmetics). His approach was to ensure that all the main protagonists: conservationists, landscape campaigners, access bodies and commoners all remained in the same tent. He knew that in order to conserve Dartmoor and its cultural heritage no one group could achieve all it wanted to and therefore compromise was necessary. He spent  much of his life at the centre of that negotiation keeping the parties talking and through his immense presence chiding the unwilling when appropriate, a phenomenon I experienced on several occasions whilst working for the National Trust. He told me to talk to ‘my’ Commoners, now I have embarked on my PhD about the Dartmoor Commons I perhaps will be able to heed his advice more closely.
Some said that later in his life he became too close to the farming community, but his view was that in order to conserve the wildlife and historic landscapes of Dartmoor whilst still providing access for all, the Dartmoor Commoners  also needed to be conserved. He became their champion to ensure the necessary compromises could be negotiated – he was of course entirely correct.
Ian Mercer will be missed by both the Conservationists and the Commoners. My condolences go to Pamela and her family.
I can recommend Kate Ashbrook’s obituary in the Western Morning News – see here, along with Matthew Kelly’s blog, author of Quartz and Feldspar, about Ian and his legacy – see here.
If you haven’t got it I also also throughly recommend Ian’s magnum opus on Dartmoor – the Collins New Naturalist volume 111 simply entitled Dartmoor – see here.

A must read / have book for all Dartmoor fans








The Vestal

My moth trap is still catching good numbers of moths

This is The Vestal – an immigrant moth which is found in Britain between April and November – records in September may be individuals that have bred in the country – however they are unable to overwinter in Britain due to the low temperatures. They breed all year round in southern Europe

broad-bordered-yellow-underwingThe commonest moth by far is still the Large Yellow Underwing but there was are also this single Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing in the trap yesterday

beaded-chestnutAnd this Beaded Chestnut – one of the autumn specialists

Reed Hall Exeter

Yesterday I spent a little time exploring the campus at Exeter University – I have a meeting today at Reed Hall and wanted to make sure I knew where it was! I have been there before  but …


Reed Hall is the oldest building at the University and contains the magical arboretum. Here is a bit of history.


Reed Hall was formerly known as Streatham Hall and was built for Richard Thornton West in 1867.   The impressive Italian style terrace gardens lead to the extensive collection of specimen trees and shrubs planted by the famous plant importer Robert Veitch who had nurseries in Exeter in the mid to late 1800s (I’ve written about the tree collection at Exeter University before – see here).  The 1903 sales prospectus  suggested that ‘the mansion is surrounded by most beautiful pleasure grounds arranged in terraces and including an exquisite Italian garden, with lake and superb conservatory and palm house.  There are extensive fruit and vegetable gardens and complete range of glass . . . The Builder and Gardener have manifestly worked hand-in-hand and, under the mellowing effects of time, nature has perfected in her generous way the original design.’  Surviving garden features also include the pinetum and ornamental pond with fountains.  The Palm House was removed to the Imperial Wetherspoon’s pub on St David’s Hill and is now one of the bars.

Just up from the formal gardens is a fallen pine which has been conserved and curated to tell its history. I like things like this!




Perhaps in due course a few more events could be added which are a little bit more outward looking.

The whole area (i.e. the grounds around Reed Hall) is open to the public and if you haven’t been it is well worth a visit.