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.