Quartz and feldspar – roads, forestry, water and the military

This book has been sitting on one of my bookshelves for too long and at last I have started to read it – a long overdue activity. Quartz and Feldspar is by Matthew Kelly, a Devon born academic historian working out of the University of Southampton. I haven’t finished the book yet and to be honest I am not reading it in the order that the chapters were written but either way it is a very good read. At its heart the book argues that far from being a wilderness Dartmoor is ever changing as a result of the endeavours of its people and those who wish to exploit it. For those of us who work on Dartmoor this is perhaps not new but the detailed research that underpins the synthesis is important and revealing.

Quartz and Feldspar

The section that has really grabbed my attention so far is entitled ‘Preservation and Amenity’. It details the battles predominantly during the 20th century (a time when the preservation / conservation of Dartmoor was in the ascendancy) between competing  land-uses along with the challenges posed by national interest and local conservation.

The section details the battles (largely spearheaded by the Dartmoor Preservation Association) around  key national priorities. In no particular order these are road building, reservoir construction, conifer afforestation and military training. It is a story of battles fought, some won and some lost.

The building of the A30 through the northern fringes of the moor is a recent story – I was working for the Devon Wildlife Trust when the public inquiry into this route was held. The road was approved despite vocal local opposition but today it is hard to see what would have happened if it hadn’t been built or if the northern route had been selected instead. It was the inspiration to me when I worked in Northamptonshire for the local Wildlife Trust and opposed the building of the A14 through the county – another lost campaign ……

The chapter also details the fierce battle over coniferisation of the moor and how so much more of the moor might have been planted up if the opposition hadn’t dug in. Interesting to see today how the Forestry Commission has changed……

Next comes the construction of Dartmoor’s reservoirs – it is almost hard to believe now that without these structures there would be terrible water shortages in Devon. These reservoirs today along with their fringing conifer plantations are some of the most popular venues for recreation and amenity by local people and visitors – think of Burrator, Fernworthy, Venford and Meldon just to mention a few! Oh the irony! It was interesting to read that there were plans to create a reservoir around and on top of Fox Tor Mire – that would have been a terrible loss had it gone ahead but no doubt the losses in the other valleys were terrible too at the time but these are now long forgotten……

Finally comes the controversies around military training on Dartmoor – following the Second World War the army and navy were very robust about their use of the moor, attempts were made to develop it further and even create a Garrison Town. However it was not the campaigners who tempered the military’s use of Dartmoor – it was world events and the rise of the nuclear era. Yes there are still tensions around military training on Dartmoor today but they are rather modest compared to those of 60 years ago. Interesting to note too the rather robust role played by the National Trust on its land on the Upper Plym and the superimposed Ringmoor training ground…..

After reading this section I was left with the feeling that fierce battles had been fought – some won and some lost (depending on your perspective), that Dartmoor had changed but that it had dusted itself down and continued to possess its archetypal characteristics. I was also struck with the feeling that today all the players involved in battles past get on rather well! Differences have been put into the history books and the era of stakeholders and stakeholder management is now firmly with us……

I will return to this book again in due course and look at what it says about  farming and the farmers of Dartmoor- their history and their future.

I recommend you read this book.

One thought on “Quartz and feldspar – roads, forestry, water and the military

  1. Pingback: Quartz and Feldspar – the paperback – updated edition – A Dartmoor and Devon blog

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