The Uplands Alliance and the National Trust

The Uplands Alliance held a meeting yesterday in Cumbria about the future of the uplands after Brexit.

Dame Helen Ghosh, the Director General of the National Trust was one of the speakers.

Here full speech can be read here. She finished her presentation with the following words ‘There is change coming and we need to face into this together.  But upland farmers have proved over the centuries that they are resilient and adaptable and those traits will be needed again over the next decade.  If we work together, with a clear sense of our common goals, there is a bright future for farming, landscapes and nature. You can count on our commitment and support.’

The National Trust and various Cumbrian farmers have recently been involved in a very public spat over Thorneythwaite Farm – see here and therefore this speech by Ghosh appears to have gone a long way to re-build bridges.


As I have said before – united we stand, divided we fall



Storm Angus, the Amber rain and Holnicote

Following Storm Angus last weekend a piece appeared in the Guardian which reported that the Natural Flood Management measures introduced by the National Trust on its Holnicote Estate on Exmoor had been effective at protecting over 100 houses downstream from flooding.

You can read that article here.

Nigel Hester, the Holnicote NFM Project Manager for the National Trust posted some pictures of Allerford during the storm


screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-38-42As Storm Angus was quickly followed by the Amber rain event I was keen to find out what happened after Angus

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-30-01The first peak is Angus and the second is the Amber rain event – I wanted to check with Nigel that the villages and homes had survived flood free both of the events. I asked him “looking at your picture of the Packhouse Inn – does that mean that eventually the river broke its bank and flooded the village?”

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-31-39This is his reply – no flooding.

This is very good news and a very impressive outcome considering there were two large flood events in succession. When the Amber rain arrived there was still a lot of water in the system from Angus.

This is a major story and one that should be of interest to local communities and politicians everywhere.

It appears to me that a well designed and correctly located natural flood management scheme can make a real difference on the ground. Now all that is needed is some modest funding and some political will.



New Markets for Land and Nature

Prior to our vote to leave the European Union in June this year it was nigh on impossible to find an environmentalist who supported Brexit and after the vote had occurred there was a widespread gloom and fear about what the future held for the environment. However once Theresa May had made it clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ the mood rapidly changed and all the major environmental NGOs and others began to explore the opportunities that existed in re-designing the subsidy system after we left the Common Agricultural Policy. For example in August the National Trust issued a six point plan which set out what it thought a re-designed new scheme should include – see here. Dame Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director General for example said “Public money must only pay for public goods. Currently, most of a £600m pot from the EU (out of the £3.1bn CAP funding) benefits wildlife and the environment. The majority of the remainder is allocated based on the size of farm. There will need to be a transition to the new world but this basic income support payment should be removed.

I have also written recently about the Uplands Alliance meeting in London where options for the future were discussed – see here.

Yesterday another approach and contribution was launched, again involving the National Trust but this time in partnership with the Green Alliance ‘New Markets for Land and Nature. How Natural Infrastructure Schemes could pay for a better environment‘. You can download the report here.

For the past few years the National Trust have been developing their Land and Nature programme, an attempt to define and expand the Trust’s work in saving, creating and enjoying nature. One of the work streams was exploring new economic models for agriculture. This work carried out by the Green Alliance for the National Trust is the first major contribution to that debate.


The Executive Summary states “Agriculture is under pressure to increase production, reduce its environmental impact and eliminate its dependence on public subsidy. Many farming businesses are operating at the limit of their profitability, often to the detriment of soil health, water quality and biodiversity. Farmers are in a unique position to restore and protect the natural environment, but there is no commercial basis for the provision of natural services from farmland. This report sets out a mechanism for establishing natural markets to bring new income streams into farming, supporting a fundamentally different approach to land use.

The report uses an ecosystem service approach and focuses on a market for ‘slow clean water’. They argue that by creating such a market water companies would not need to spend so much on pollution reduction and water treatment measures and bodies such as the Environment Agency,  local authorities and insurance companies would not need to spend so much on flood protection schemes along with the costs of clearing up after such events had occurred.

This approach builds on DEFRA’s ecosystem payment model by increasing revenue with ‘a market for avoided costs’. The report suggests that the cost of floods and treatment for water pollution to be £2,373 million a year, equivalent to £24 million a year for each of the one hundred water catchments in England.

This diagram gives an overview of how Natural Infrastructure Schemes (NIS) and NIS Plus might work – driven by farmers and land managers and funded by industry / public authorities who save money from the avoided costs of pollution and flooding which then benefits a variety of different customers.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-11-02-13This graphic sets out how such an approach would benefit farmers and land managers

It is a very interesting contribution to the debate on post Brexit agriculture, the State of Nature, flooding and pollution. It offers a mechanism whereby farmers, especially those in the uplands can secure their financial futures by providing additional ‘public goods’ along with an albeit reduced farming output. It offers the opportunity of giving upland farmers a large, important and publicly valued societal role at a time when their own self esteem has been reduced by an otherwise unprofitable agricultural regime.

Wicken Fen revisited

I made an impromtu visit to the National Trust’s Wicken Fen reserve yesterday as I was in the East visiting a friend. I haven’t had a good walk around the Fen for around a decade so it was good to see it in spring and in the sunshine. I worked at Wicken for seven years a while back and so it was equally good to see the progress that has been made by the team since then.

Wicken Fen 1
The Sedge Fen was really quite wet which for a wetland is a good thing – indeed some of the paths were closed as a result. The re-routed boardwalk was excellent. It wasn’t very long before we heard a booming bittern, saw a male marsh harrier and heard a Cetti’s warbler (counted 13 singing males in total around the reserve). The former and the latter never bred on the Fen when I was there.

Wicken Fen 2
It was also good to see this wind pump – another addition since my time. It takes water from one of the alkali rich Lodes (fenland watercourses) and pumps it into the ditches of the old Fen. I spent years trying to sort this out and it is good to see a project in partnership with the Environment Agency has come together.

Wicken Fen 3
A new plastic Fen Lighter boat which is electric powered has now been acquired by the National Trust and is used to give visitors a unique perspective of the fenland landscape.

Wicken Fen 4Looking over to the Mere and its associated roadbeds and scrub from the old Tower Hide – a wetland created after the Second World War

Wicken Fen 5
A new bridge to allow cattle and ponies to access new land has recently been installed as has this rather good new hide

Wicken Fen 7
The reedbeds on Adventurer’s Fen

Wicken Fen Highland Cattle 1
A couple of Highland Cattle on Baker’s Fen

Wicken Fen Highland Cattle 2
Another one grazing on Verrall’s Fen

Wicken Fen Highland Cattle 3
Fantastic beasts – well suited to the Fenland environment – unfortunately the konik ponies were largely congregated on Guinea Hall Farm and I didn’t have time to walk up there to see them.

Marsh harrier - male 2A couple of views of a male marsh harrier gliding over the Fen.

Marsh harrier - male 1
In all I saw 6 marsh harriers in the air at one time.

Hobby 1
There were also plenty of hobbies on the reserve – perhaps as many as six

Hobby 2
There were three hawking St Mark’s flies over the Mere

Great White Egret
Even got a special treat with a Great White Egret on Baker’s Fen from Charlie’s Hide.

Wicken Fen 8Moody fen skies over the Sedge Fen and Visitor Centre with the old wooden Fen Lighter on the left

Wicken Fen is growing all the time and is now pretty big – I never got down as far a Burwell Fen – this was arable land in the early 2000s and we acquired it as part of the Wicken Fen Vision to restore it back to wetland for people and wildlife – by all accounts it now looks very different and is host to a range of classic fen species – next time I will try and visit it!

I was very impressed with the wildlife I saw, the quality of the habitat and the progress in the creation of new wetlands. A great race is now underway to see who can create the best wetlands – Wicken Fen and its co-partners at the Great Fen Project and Lakenheath Fen or the Avalon Marshes Partnership in the Somerset Levels.

I don’t mind who wins as long as it is nature.

10 Tors 2016 – congratulations and respect

Another amazing 10 Tors weekend has come and gone. Here are some photographs of the teams that I have helped train and manage finishing their weekend of walking.

WT 35 4This is the National Trust Wild Tribe 35 mile Team approaching the finish

Wild Tribe 35 2It is just after 9am on Sunday morning – they are the 3rd team in overall (out of 400) just 12 minutes behind the first team Torquay Scouts

Wild Tribe 35 3
What an achievement – congratulations to all involved

Wild Tribe 45 1
Here come the National Trust Wild Tribe 45 mile team – it is around 10am – they are the third 45 mile team in!

Wild Tribe 45 2
Taking the ‘Wild’ theme very seriously – from zebras to apes, penguins, frogs and …. I’m not sure what the 5th right is?

Wild Tribe 45 3
Absolutely brilliant

WT 55 1
Here comes the National Trust Wild Tribe 55 mile team – in at 11.45am – the 3rd 55 mile team in! A theme has emerged …

WT 55 2
Still smiling after all those miles

WT 55 3
A team photo at the finish with Tony Owen who has helped the National Trust and the young people make this happen

WT 55 4
I managed to get to their medal ceremony. In previous years we have been waiting for our 55 mile teams to come in at 4pm and even 5pm! To get in before midday is an awesome achievement.

WT 55 5
A photograph of the 55 milers at 6.15am on Saturday – just before we all head to the start – do I see apprehension as well as excitement?

TBGS 35B 1
The National Trust Wild Tribe teams work and train hand in glove with Torquay Boys Grammar School. Without the support, encouragement and very hard work of Dr Roy Colville and the school generally, the NT couldn’t do 10 Tors. Here come the TBGS 35 mile A team approaching the finish.

TBGS 35B 2
Another amazing performance – in before 1pm. Sorry I missed the TBGS 35 mile B team as I was at the medal ceremony for the 55ers.

TBGS 45 1
Here come the TBGS 45 mile team – there are girls in the Sixth Form at TBGS and two of who are in this team – team in at 10.30am – a very impressive performance

For those of us who manage 10 Tors Teams the ‘weekend’ starts on Thursday and finishes on Sunday – I will tell some of the other stories of the entire weekend over the coming days in this blog.

Finally, huge congratulations to all the participants, thanks to the team of TBGS staff and volunteers, thanks to the staff and volunteers from the National Trust team on Dartmoor and thanks to the Army for organising it -it was very slick and well organised.

From Scilly to Dartmoor – gigs to Tors

I’ve been really lucky!

I have been involved with two of the largest mass participation outdoor sporting events in the south west. Last week I competed in the Isles of Scilly World Gig Rowing Championships (see here, here and here) and today I’m off to the 2016 Ten Tors Challenge event.

I’m the Team Manager for the National Trust on Dartmoor (I’m now a volunteer but was previously the NT’s General Manager on the Moor). We have three teams – 35, 45 and 55 milers. We have been training for the last nine months with Torquay Boys Grammar School preparing 18 young people for the challenge. Yesterday teams of staff and volunteers from the NT and TBGS prepared the base camp (there was even a cuckoo urging everyone on). Today we have a day of briefing and preparation. The main event starts at 7am on Saturday morning.

Training has been tough this year – we have been out torrential amber warning rain and winds – see here and cold nights – see here. The teams are therefore ready to go and amazingly the weather forecast looks very good i.e. not raining and cold. Yippee.

TT pass
I collected my car pass from Okehampton Camp today after having collected the teams and volunteers ‘event’ hoodies.

Wild Tribe 55
Here is National Trust Wild Tribe 55 mile last year mid event with the Brigadier and a helicopter! How cool is that.

10 Tors 24-Jan 1
Sunset during a training walk – what a time to be on the moor

10 Tors is brilliant for young people – it teaches them two sets of life skills:-

  1. A love of the outdoors, nature and landscapes – it gets them away from their ‘screens’ for while.
  2. It also gives them fitness, grit and determination, teaches them teamwork and encourages leadership and achievement.

Just what the National Trust is trying to encourage by its support of the Wild Network.

Thank you Torquay Boys Grammar School (and Dr. Roy Colvile and Tony Owen in particular) without you the National Trust couldn’t do 10 Tors.

A glorious walk around Stackpole in the sunshine

Am in Pembrokeshire for a couple of days and yesterday we had a walk around the National Trust’s Estate at Stackpole which is in the National Park.

Stackpole 12
We parked up and started the walk at Lodge Park

Stackpole 1Dropped down to Bosherton Lakes and walked across the 8 Arch Bridge

Stackpole 2After walking through Stackpole Park (which is now intensive farmland) we ended up at Stackpole Quay

Stackpole 5We walked around the coastal footpath and arrived at Barafundle Bay

Stackpole 6From there – up the path to Stackpole Head

Stackpole 7The cliffs are high and spectacular – if you enlarge this picture (double click) you can see two climbers just to the right of the top of the cave!

Stackpole 8Reminds me very much of the North Devon and North Cornwall coastline

Stackpole 9We then arrived at another sandy beach – Broad Haven

Stackpole 10Across Stackpole Warren and we are back at another arm of Bosherton Lakes

Stackpole 11View from the boathouse on the Lake and then back up to the car.

The walk is about 4-5 miles and has  amazing contrasts in scenery along its route.


10 Tors training in the rain and wind Feb 16 – a day to remember

After my post yesterday morning (which I wrote Friday evening) I was rather apprehensive about embarking on a 10 Tors expedition on Saturday.

The weather had worsened over night and on Saturday morning we had an Amber warming of rain over Dartmoor and Devon.

As Team Managers and Leaders (Torquay Boys Grammar School and National Trust Wild Tribe) we had spent quite a lot of Friday evening discussing the situation and looking at options. We were clear that the Saturday walk route needed to be radically altered and shortened but there was real merit in testing the young people in trying conditions. Alternative routes were devised which would be safe but would be challenging – a key 10 Tor principle.


Upon arriving at Meldon Car park this was the scene over the cattle grid.

And this was the runoff – it was raining cats and dogs….

WaterfallVarious teams set off on their revised similar routes – here is the scene looking up at Homerton Hill on the south bank of Meldon reservoir – there isn’t normally a waterfall there!

Into Meldon
And the flow into the reservoir is nearly overwhelming the bridge

These photos show the scale of the rain – but give not idea who windy it was – at this point we were heading into the wind which was unpleasant as the rain was stinging on our faces – walking with the wind was pretty challenging as it nearly blew us over and on a few occasions actually did!

SaturatedA pow wow at Vellake Corner where we decided to change the routes again – super-saturated peat!

Here is the West Okement thundering down the Valley – note you can’t get to the beginning of the bridge!

We finished our day out at 2pm at the Dartmoor Inn near Lydford. This is what 10 Tors is all about – it teaches young people resilience, endurance, leadership, tenacity, a love of Dartmoor(!!) and a sense of achievement.

In case you think we have been cavalier yesterday- let me give you the stats – we had approaching 50 young people walking today – along with 11 adult supervisors and 4 young people who have already completed 55 mile 10 Tors. Of the 11 adults 4 are qualified Moorland Leaders, one was a former senior officer in the Royal Marines, another is a serving Police Officer and one is a member of the Dartmoor Rescue Service. We don’t do this lightly.

Being there when Dartmoor is extreme is a privilege and something I wouldn’t want to miss – a day to remember.

Forestry Advisors come to Fingle Woods

Today we hosted the team of National Trust Forestry Advisors from around the country. We took them to Fingle Woods to meet our partners the Woodland Trust, show them around the site and tell them what we have been up to and what we plan next.

Forest Advisors1
Dave Rickwood, the Woodland Trust Site Manager with the Forestry Advisors and Tom Wood – NT Senior Ranger

Forest Advisors2
These are some thinned conifers which are going to become teepee poles!

Forest Advisors3

I have written before on the problems we have recently had with Phytophthorum ramorum infections in larch at Fingle (see here). The mandatory clearance work has now begun – as you can see it is quite a large area. Fortunately amongst the fallen conifers there are quite a lot of native deciduous trees and regrowth.

Forest Advisors4
This larch will probably be chipped and end up in the Castle Drogo wood chip boiler

Forest Advisors5
This is the beast of a forwarder which processes the trees once they have been winched down the hill

Forest Advisors6
Work has also begun on a clear fell site which is part of Wooston Castle – the open bit of Wooston which people visit today is but a fraction of the whole Iron Age Hillfort site – much is covered in conifers  – these will be cleared over the coming few years so that we can protect and display the hillfort and it various ramparts – it will also allow us to create open habitats for wildlife such as fritillary butterflies

Forest Advisors7
Looking down the Gorge at sunset with Drogo in the mid distance and Cosdon Beacon in the background

The Tors of the NT’s Upper Plym property

If you park your car past Cadover Bridge near to where the Blacka Brook joins the River Plym (SX563644) you can start a walk which takes you around the National Trust’s 3300 acre Upper Plym property – its a good 10 mile walk on the high moor so you need a compass, map, walking boots and warm waterproof clothes. It isn’t a beginner’s walk and it will take you at least 4 hours. If you do do it though you will be rewarded with some of Dartmoor’s fabulous but lesser known Tors. Here are some photographs of those Tors which I taken over the years and have now turned into ‘screen print images’ via Photoshop.

Hexton Tor
Hexton Tor near to Trowlesworthy Farm with Little and Great Trowlesworthy Tors on the skyline. It is not named on the OS 1:25,000 map – its grid reference is SX566649 – all the other Tors I mention are.

Little Trowlesworthy Tor
Little Trowlesworthy Tor with the abandoned worked granite flagpole base in the foreground

Greater Trowlesworthy Tor-cutoutPart of Great Trowlesworthy Tor near the quarry

Shell Top
Up the hill from there to the east is Shell Top

Hen Tor cutout
Back down the slope to the north west is Hen Tor

Shavercomber Tor
Go north again and you will get to Shavercombe Tor

Calverslake Tor
To the north east is Calverslake Tor near the source of the Plym (you make recognise this photo from my blog header!)

Quickest way back is to follow the Plym south (downstream)  all the way back to the Blacka Brook.

Alternatively you could start at Peat Cot (c2 miles SE of Princetown near Whiteworks) and walk past Nunn’s Cross and then do the Tors the other way round. A longer walk and one that needs more advanced navigation skills.

We regularly take our 10 Tors training walks on both these routes – they are character building too!

(All the images are my copyright)