The battle for Hillyfield

Hillyfield is a 45 acre woodland on the southern edge of Dartmoor, it was bought in 2010 by Doug King-Smith who is in the process of bringing this semi-derelict woodland back to life. He and his family have begun the task of managing this woodland using eco-friendly sustainable principles, felling the Phytophthora infected larch trees, promoting native broadleaves and selling them for timber and firewood to organisations such as the National Trust. He has gone to long lengths to make this a community based project involving local people in the dying art of traditional woodland management and the ancient crafts associated with it.


In order to achieve these objectives there is a need for some infrastructure i.e. a few buildings to store equipment, a wood drying barn, a small kitchen to feed the volunteers in and a yurt to shelter them along with a couple of compost toilets. The Dartmoor National Park Authority have taken exception to this and have issued enforcement orders to remove them thus jeopardising the entire future of the project.

As a result Hillyfield has been forced to organise a crowd-funding campaign to pay for a barrister to fight the DNPA – see here. The irony is that the DNPA supports sustainable woodland management and therefore ought to be helping the Hillyfield project and not threatening its very existence. To add insult to injury the ‘contentious’ structures are only visible to those who are actually in the wood.

The campaign is supported by a number of influential people such as the Totnes visionary and founder of the Transition movement Rob Hopkins, Rob Penn the author of the excellent book “The man who made things out of trees” and Rupert Lane who is now an independent forestry consultant and was formerly the DNPA’s forest advisor.

2 primrose flowers


On Sunday this story was featured in the Observer – see here and previously my friend and fellow Dartmoor commentator Matthew Kelly (the author of Quartz and Feldspar) has written in support of the King-Smiths – see here.

This link gives advice for small woodland owners on planning issues – see here and to be honest what the King-Smiths want to do should be possible. If the DNPAs own internal guidance and policies won’t allow it then the DNPA need to re-visit their own policies because Hillyfield is the actual on the ground embodiment of what they actually want to see happen in the National Park.

I urge you to support the Hillyfield campaign and their crowd-funding appeal – follow this link.

The DNPA is in grave danger of creating a national park conserved in aspic celebrating an era of abandonment which I know is the opposite of what they really want. It is time for flexibility, some sensible interpretation of policies, compromise and shared goals and not a battle royal which will ruin reputations and waste everyone’s time and money.


Grange Barn – the oldest barn in Britain

Grange Barn in Coggeshall  in Essex is one of the oldest agricultural buildings in Europe. The oldest timbers in the building date from the early 12th century.

Grange Barn 1
It is a huge building – 120 feet long, 45 feet wide and 35 feet high

Grange Barn 2It was built by Cisterian monks so that they could store their agricultural produce

Grange Barn 6

To me it is one of the wonders of Britain and clearly shows how important the management of woodlands was in the 12th century in producing timber for huge buildings like this

Grange Barn 3The building was used for agricultural storage up to the 1960s

Grange Barn 4

After which it fell into disrepair – during the early 1980s it was saved from destruction and restored by local people – I first visited Grange Barn in 1986 with Oliver Rackham

Grange Barn 5The roof consists of over 85,000 tiles

The Barn was given to the National Trust in 1989 and is now open to the public – see here for the opening time details.

Hatfield Forest

“Hatfield is of supreme interest in that all the elements of a medieval Forest survive: deer, cattle, coppice woods, pollards, scrub, timber trees, grassland and fen …. As such it is almost certainly unique in England and possibly in the world. Hatfield is the only place where one can step back into the Middle Ages to see, with only a small effort of the imagination, what a Forest looked like in use.”

Oliver Rackham in ‘The Last Forest’

I visited Hatfield Forest in Essex the other day – it is one of my favourite places and the quote above by Britain’s greatest historical ecologist and woodland expert, the late and greatly missed Dr Oliver Rackham explains why.

The Last Forest - Rackham
His monograph on the site will never be bettered – it is a masterpiece of research and insight.

Hatfield Forest 1The main public entrance – the start of the magic

Hatfield Forest 2The wood pasture – shimmering with buttercups and ancient trees

Hatfield Forest 3Old fallen oaks left as dead wood habitats

Hatfield Forest 4Magnificent spreading oaks

Hatfield Forest 5Recently pollarded young trees which will make up the next generation

Hatfield Forest 6Cattle grazing the lawns

Hatfield Forest 7Oak veterans everywhere

HornbeamA place of hornbeams – one of Britain’s rarer trees

Hatfield Forest 8Of coppice

Hatfield Forest 9Of even more huge spreading trees

I never tire of visiting Hatfield Forest – one of the National Trust’s greatest places. I was lucky enough to visit Hatfield in 1985 with Oliver Rackham and I will never forget that day. Hatfield Forest is near Stanstead Airport just off the M11 – if you are in the area I suggest you pay a visit – you won’t regret it.

A severe outbreak of bodging

There has been a severe outbreak of bodging on Dartmoor over the past few weeks! Bodging is the traditional art of fashioning of unseasoned or green wood into practical items such as furniture or fencing hurdles.

Bodging 1
Here is George (one of our volunteers) at Parke proudly showing off the two hurdles he has just made

Bodging 3
Here are three hurdles that Fred (Parke’s Ranger) made protecting the scratter (the apple pulper)

Bodging 2
Here is a chair that Dylan (Ranger in the Teign Valley) made

Chagford 4
And here is Dylan on a ‘shaving horse’ making poles for his chair at this year’s Chagford Show

Good to see the old skills being maintained and practiced – I suspect we will see more of this type of thing in the future – gives our woodlands a better future