The wildfire site at Gidleigh

I’ve been back to Gidleigh Common today to see what the wildfire area (April 2018) looks like this spring.

The wildfire area is the green bit. The brown bits are the areas of ungrazed Molinia (Purple Moor Grass) which were not affected by the fire. The rocks on the skyline top right are Watern Tor.

Just to the south is the rest of Gidleigh Common, part of Chagford Common and the new takes up to Sittaford Tor. As you can see the majority of it is dominated by Molinia.

Amongst the green bits were five different herds of cattle – all Galloways or Belted Galloways – the black dots in the picture. The cattle were only grazing in the fire area and none in the Molinia. These cattle are not Gidleigh Common cattle – they have been drawn in from elsewhere – mainly the Forest of Dartmoor. The cattle love the new sweet grass that grows after a fire. That is good for the burnt area but bad for the unburnt areas which simply become more overgrown. It looks there will be no grazing this year (again) in places like the flanks of Hangingstone Hill (see yesterday’s blog – here).

The Gidleigh Galloways (and some ponies) were grazing to the north on an area that was burnt 7 years ago but has been grazed every year since. Again the areas of Molinia to the right are untouched.

Too much Molinia and not enough cattle ….

Gidleigh Commoners are currently trialling winter grazing of Galloways – they won’t eat much of the Molinia in the winter but they do trample it down. The winter feeding of the cattle is being done sympathetically by good shepherding and there appears to be no detrimental effects.

What for the future?

Some hill-farmers advocate new light burns each year in adjacent Molinia patches to lure the cattle onto the new growth. But without more cattle (which hill-farm economics does not really encourage) it is hard to see how the Molinia problem can be ‘solved’ on the Home Commons such as Gidleigh – let alone the massive Forest of Dartmoor Common which is now largely a Molinia jungle.

This whole topic is down for debate at the Dartmoor Commoners Council meeting this Wednesday …..should be interesting but I bet there won’t be a consensus.

 

 

Beating the Bounds of Gidleigh Common

Every 7 years the boundary of Gidleigh Common is walked and the marked boundary stones are re-found and cleaned. 150 people attended and had a pasty and a pint under Wild Tor. The traditional ‘races’ were then held before everyone continued on to Throwleigh. We started at 10am and finished at 6pm. A celebration of Commons at a time when they have never been under greater threat. Here are some of my photographs and thoughts from yesterday.

Apparently Gidleigh has one of the the smallest areas of in-bye on Dartmoor but has one of the largest Commons. Today there are just four active Commoning families left – the largest on the Common being the Jordans. Here are John and Robert Jordan at the Kes Tor moorgate.

Cleaning the boundary stone

An important social event for the Commoners and the Parish

Up to the Stone Rows – almost enveloped in Purple Moor Grass …. (Molinia)

Onto the Standing Stone – with Chagford Common beyond and Fernworthy Forest in the distance

Some cattle and Robert Jordan

Crispin Alford – to quote Julia Aglionby from the Foundation for Common Land ‘iconic people looking after iconic places’.

Crossing the North Teign

And up towards Watern Tor – note the two most common plants in the picture Purple Moor Grass and Western Gorse!

Robert Jordan cleaning a boundary stone

I’ve been to Watern Tor many times before but never seen it like this!

The gap in Watern Tor is called Thirlestone – to mark the bounds a pony is lead through

Crispin Alford at Watern

The Jordans

Coming down from Watern

The picnic under Wild Tor – the walkers being joined by 4 trailer loads of non walkers

After the pasty and the pint we were treated to dog racing – Emma Cunis and Marylou North

Various people racing events – not everybody made it!

2018 or 1960 or ……  Tradition runs deeps.

And a three-legged race

After lunch – onwards back to Throwleigh

Quite a scene!

Riding through the Western Gorse

The ‘key’ Gidleigh Commoners – proud people worried about their future and the condition of their Common – something we should all be worried about too – is it time we again trusted ‘local knowledge’ and facilitated the hill-farmers to help sort the Molinia and gorse mess out which the English Nature and Natural England prescriptions created?

John Jordan

Crispin Alford

Crispin Alford and Penny Warren cleaning a marker on Kennon Hill – history in the making. I love the fact that the horse paying attention too!

And back down to Throwleigh – look at all that gorse – oh my goodness.

A celebration of culture and tradition…..

The big question for me is when the Bounds of Gidleigh Common are walked in 7 years time what will the Common be like? It will have had to deal with Brexit, prescriptions and rules from Natural England, atmospheric pollution and more climate change … I worry. Will it still be dominated by Purple Moor Grass and extensive areas of gorse?  Will John, Robert, Crispin, Penny, Marylou, David and Steven still be there?

Think about it.

Without Commoners the Commons can’t be managed for their ‘public goods’.

It is time to get our collective act together – time is running out.

It is time for some real leadership but from who?

Natural England? Dartmoor Commoners Council? Dartmoor National Park Authority?

Why not all of you …..

Please …. someone…..