New website up and running

We have been busy putting together a new website for the scheme so you can find your way around more easily and discover what is happening, what the projects are and keep up to date with the latest news. The new website has a more streamlined address

www.moorthanmeetstheeye.org

and should be easy to use whether you are on a pc, mobile or tablet.

News and events are on the home page, making it easy to keep up with the latest happenings. There is an interactive map on the projects page to help you find projects across the area or follow the themes of Dartmoor through the Ages, Dartmoor Wildlife, Discovering the Dartmoor Story and Conserving Dartmoor to find a project.

You’ll also find reports and downloads available on the resources page under “Get Involved”

Let us know what you think or whether you’ve spotted any bugs or problems and we’ll try to resolve them.

For the short term we’ll keep the events list up to date on this website but will use the new website as our main presence on the web so please update your contact lists for us.

Discovering medieval society

The Moor Medieval Study Group met for a second time on Saturday 30th May at Greenhill Arts Centre, Moretonhampstead. The morning session was introduced by the project lead, Historic Buildings Officer, Keith McKay and was followed by a fascinating talk by professional medievalist, Dr David Stone. David’s talk focused on the economy and structure of society in medieval England between 1086 and 1500 and described how England’s climate, economy and population changed over this time – with specific reference to Dartmoor. Following David, the group were introduced to a range of resources including maps, some GIS ‘layers’ (geographical information systems), surveys and plans of longhouses. The group is starting to forge a way forward and have identified various themes to be explored. These include industry, farming and agriculture, archaeology and medieval buildings. Including some experienced researchers, and others who are completely new to historical research, the study group welcomes any newcomers who would like to get involved – please contact Community Heritage Officer, Emma Stockley 01822 890 904 emma@moorthanmeetstheeye.org or Historic Buildings Officer, Keith McKay 01626 831 008 keithm@dartmoor.gov.uk

David Stone’s talk to the MMSG

Springwatch: The Trail

Visit Yarner Wood over the half term holidays and become a wildlife expert! This is the perfect time to visit the reserve and watch the migrant birds such as the pied flycatcher as they rush to feed their chicks, to listen to the rattling call of the wood warbler or simply marvel at the industry of the ants. For younger wildlife watchers we’ve set out a trail to help you explore and get closer to some of the wildlife. You can pick up a map from outside the office in the main car park and then follow the trail to discover hidden letterbox tubs with activities to help you discover that there is more than meets the eye to Yarner and the Bovey Valley!

The main car park is 2 miles out of Bovey Tracey on the Manaton Road, TQ13 9LJ

Ashburton’s Parishscapes Launch, Thursday 23rd April 2015

Ashburton launched their Parishscape project on Thursday evening at St Lawrence Chapel.  The project, organised by the Guild of St Lawrence will be spread over four years, and will look at all aspects of medieval Ashburton with the first year shedding light on medieval Ashburton’s bridges, roads, watercourses and buildings.  The event was well-attended by around sixty people and was followed by a lively and entertaining talk by David Crook on Beating the Bounds.  This will be the first Parishscapes project to get fully underway and it promises to involve a wide range of groups and individuals through guided walks, exhibitions, talks and school projects to complement the historical research.

Discover the wildlife of the Bovey Valley

Dust off your binoculars and meet our local wildlife experts on Saturday 9th May. East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve will be host to a festival of wildlife walks and activities from Dawn until Dusk. There will be something to suit everyone, whether you are already a keen birdwatcher or are a family making your first visit to the reserve. The day starts with a Dawn Chorus walk for those who want to get the full taste of Spring, we’ll then explore the woodland and valley surveying for small mammals and butterflies, look for minibeasts, have a go at river dipping, get an experts view on taking wildlife photographs, looking for the signs of otters and much more, finishing off with a bat walk to learn about our barbastelle bat project and go in search of some of the valleys bats.

Theme Time Who it is for
Dawn Chorus Walk 4:30am to 5:30am Adults Come and experience the mellifluous sound of the birds as they all wake up and begin their morning symphony
Bird Song Walk 8am to 9am All (children above 5 years of age) A family friendly bird walk with activities to suit
Mammal Survey Walk including Dormice 9am to 11am All (children above 5 years of age) A chance to learn how to spot signs of mammals –  we may be lucky enough to see them too.
Photographing Nature Walk 11am to 1pm Adults and older children Take a walk with a wildlife photographer
Lichens Walk 12 noon to 2pm Adults A walk to explore the lichens found here and learn more about these strange organisms
Butterfly Walk 2pm to 3pm All (Children above 5 years of age) Learn to spot and identify some of the rare butterflies found here (Weather dependent)
Reptile Walk 3pm to 4pm All Discover more about adders, slow worms and lizards with a chance, if we are lucky, to see some too.
River Dipping 4pm to 5pm Families What lurks in the watery shallows of the Bovey? Grab a net and discover the creatures from another world
Otter Walk 5pm to 6pm Adults Learn more about these elusive creatures and how to spot signs that they are in the area
Bat Walk 8pm to 10pm Adults and older children Join us as the sun sets on our wild day and look for these nocturnal creatures into the night

Booking essential. Contact Jane Craven on 0845 293 5742 or email janecraven@woodlandtrust.org.uk

Download a flyer Wildlife Discovery Day Flyer 2015

Parking will be at various locations around the reserve more details when you book

Tracking Rare Bats in the Bovey – Barbastelle Tracking Diary (part 3)

Radio Tracking Training – On Site and Fully Equipped

The barbastelle bat is one of the UK’s more rare bats and there is a lot we don’t know about its life, its behaviour and its habitat needs. The good news is that the barbastelle has been found in the Bovey valley and, under the Moor than meets the eye scheme, the landscape partnership has put together a plan to study this small flying mammal.

On Saturday 25th April the barbastelle bat tracking team met at the Yarner Woodland Centre for the third time to start their practical radio tracking training. Still keen to commit their time to the study, the 25 volunteers signed up and paired up into survey teams for the coming months’ work.

Back at the helm, Andy Carr (PhD researcher at the University of Bristol) outlined the training for the day. This would be the first time the volunteers would use the radio tracking equipment and, splitting into three groups, an experienced bat tracker was on hand to supervise each one. Andy continued to set the scene on the overall survey – how, earlier in the week a number of bats had been trapped to select one for tracking. A male barbastelle, now named Bert, was tagged and ready for action. Interestingly, another bat was trapped and suspected to be a recently discovered species of Alcathoe bat. It’s very similar to the barbastelle, so similar in fact, that only a DNA check on its droppings will confirm this new discovery, the first in Devon.

Time for the tracking training to begin for real. Fully equipped groups assembled outside to discuss plans to find a live tag hidden somewhere in the oak woods – a needle in a haystack! Setting the receiver to the right channel, aerial aloft, they were ready. The basic rule of radio tracking is to find a high vantage point, so all three groups set off on their three different routes to gain altitude. Light rain had arrived and, pushing through knee-high wet bilberry the volunteers climbed, stopped, checked and listened for a signal. Gradually a feint beeping led the group through the trees, pausing now and again to make sure they were on track. As the beep got louder, careful adjustment of the “gain” sensitivity on the receiver indicated their distance from the target. Not far from the tag the volunteers needed to look for likely roost sites; split bark or torn, decaying braches on oak trees are the preferred home of the barbastelle. Groups of volunteers who took different routes at the start began to converge. “It must be close now” they agreed. Walking in ever decreasing circles, only one or two trees had potential roost spots and finally, there it was. A pair of red eyes on a fabric bat nestled in the crack of a torn branch, but the transmitter tag was genuine though. A successful first stage of radio tracking training was rounded off with a chat about how radio tracking can be used to follow a moving bat and record its progress.

20150424 WT MTMTE Barbastelle Bat Volunteer Training 20150425 WT MTMTE Barbastelle Bat Volunteer Training

Photos: radio tracking training, locating the transmitter in an oak tree

The Evening Shift

Resuming in the car park above the Bovey valley at 8pm the volunteers assembled with aerials and receivers to get their first “fix” on Bert’s roost location. The signal was weak and intermittent but benefited from a boost by the use of a Land Rover roof rack as an amplifier. Two way radios were shared out as groups of trackers set off to different vantage points around the valley. To have the best chance of picking up a signal a good promontory was found and volunteers waited, aerials raised and receivers hissing in anticipation. Rain came and went, clouds drifted around the valley and the sky darkened. The group down in the valley were the first to get a strong signal as they were reporting from outside Bert’s roost. Birdsong gradually drifted away but still no sign of bats flying. A half-moon was visible between clouds and described by 11 year old Gillian over the two way radio that “the other half was behind the darkness”! Moths began to appear in the deepening gloom, skipping between gorse flowers, but still no bats. One tawny owl in the bottom of the valley was the only bird heard – then a bat fluttered overhead, taking us by surprise. Not Bert, but a bat at least, picking off the moths. In real darkness it dawned on the volunteers and experts alike that Bert wasn’t coming out. He’d probably fed well the previous night and, in the cold, damp conditions, decided to stay under cover. The general opinion was to concur with Bert and head home.

The weather may have been wet but the volunteers’ enthusiasm was not dampened. They had all learned a lot over the training day and would be back to hone their skills another night. Some will also be back to trap and tag more bats as female members of Bert’s colony will need to be recruited. With a bit more practice the new bat trackers will be able to put together the results and provide a full picture of the movements and habits of the rare barbastelles resident in these woods in East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve.

The Bovey valley barbastelle tracking project is coordinated by the Woodland trust and Natural Engalnd as part of the Moor than Meets the Eye Landscape Partnership.

20150425 WT MTMTE Barbastelle Bat Volunteer Training3 20150425 WT MTMTE Barbastelle Bat Volunteer Training4

Photos: Team Barbastelle, Andy Carr finding a signal in the Bovey valley

Article by Matt Parkin

Woodland Skills Weekend in the Bovey Valley- Charcoal, Hurdles and Heavy Horses

20150412 MP Woodland trust Bovey logging event (1)On an early spring morning at Pullabrook Woods the sights, sounds and smells of traditional woodland crafts filled the riverside meadow. After a winter of thinning work removed the shadier areas of dense woodland and let the light in, some residual timber stacks remained and April is a perfect month to demonstrate the woodland skills needed to convert this into valuable woodland produce. While softwood thinnings are taken away for timber and wood fuel, the hardwood thinnings can make good charcoal and traditional hazel hurdles.

Starting early on Saturday the charcoal making team got warmed up by stacking the cut lengths of timber, using two different styles of stacks from two different eras. The first was an earth clamp; a conical stack covered in soil and turf. The second used a steel kiln but both were built around a central core left open till the last minute when buckets of hot ash were dropped in to ignite the wood.

As the sun climbed, the morning heated up and the atmosphere warmed with more people arriving in the meadow to see the activities in progress. Interesting skill displays for all ages included a forest school, hazel hurdle making and a heavy horse hauling logs from the woods. They all used material cut from the valley to show the techniques developed over the centuries. Children round the campfire made artists’ charcoal in a biscuit tin and crafty people had a go at riving hazel rods and weaving a hurdle. But the star of the show had to be the heavy horse with studded iron shoes, making easy work of dragging full length Scots Pine logs from the forest floor. The partnership between man and his beast of burden left people in awe of the combination of power and control.

After a busy day a small group of charcoal burners sat beside the campfire, monitoring the stacks of smoke and steam into the night while watching satellites traversing the starry sky. A cold and clear April night in the woods was no challenge for the river Bovey otter heard making his way up stream but for the few who stayed in the woods all night the frost on the tents meant a chilly start to Sunday. A bacon and egg roll provided the breakfast boost for the workforce to continue monitoring the charcoal burn; waiting for the smoke to change from white to distinctive blue. A spring morning was captured by the damp and still air which trapped the smoke at tree top level until it was released by the sun’s warm thermals.

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Later, people returned to the meadow as the ground warmed and the birds and beasts emerged. This meadow is a refuge for various species of insects including the rare violet oil beetle. With all the activities in full swing once again the warm ambience complemented the bright spring day.

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After more horses, hurdles and charcoal the visitors left the valley with happy memories of woodland skills and the aromatic wood smoke in the air. Only the charcoal burners remained to shut down the smoke stacks to cool in time for their return in two days to collect the fruits of their labours; sack loads of good quality clean-burning fuel. Spring time in the meadow will now be left for the Bovey valley otters, wildflowers and butterflies to provide the next show. It looks like it could be a barbecue summer.

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by Matt Parkins

Long houses and hard lives: Medieval life on Dartmoor

20150228 MA MTMTE Moor Medieval Symposium (16)

The Moor Medieval project was launched with a symposium held at Parke, on life during medieval times on East Dartmoor.  This illuminating day was organised to share and review our existing understanding of the iconic Dartmoor Longhouse, its role in medieval life and its context in the landscape. There were thought provoking sessions from some of the country’s leading historians; (from left to right) Tom Greeves, John Allan, Peter Beacham, John Thorpe, Nat Alcock and Ian Mortimer.
What was very apparent from the day was the enthusiasm and interest from the full-capacity audience as well as the breadth and depth of knowledge that the speakers conveyed. The speaker’s passion for these buildings was palpable and this helped to emphasise the importance of conserving and protecting the longhouses for the future.  The Dartmoor Longhouse, with accommodation for human occupants at one end and livestock at the other was presented as being every bit as iconic for Dartmoor as the Dartmoor pony. One particularly colourful analogy used to illustrate the role of the longhouse and its occupants was that of the medieval ‘Dartmoor cowboy’- a leather clad cattle farmer living with his animals.

We are looking at ways to bring some of what was presented to a wider audience and will keep you informed via the newsletter as to what format this might take.
Building on the considerable interest in the longhouse and medieval life on Dartmoor we plan to set up a Medieval Study Group. A meeting for those interested will be held on Sat 25th April in Moretonhampstead. For more information and to reserve a place, contact Emma at emma@moorthanmeetstheeye.org

Ian Mortimer will be leading an event at Higher Uppacott on 11th April entitled “The Changing Medieval World”

Moor Medieval is a parish based project which will further our understanding of medieval life and the effects that early farming had on the landscape of Dartmoor over a thousand years.  The project will initially focus upon an area of medieval significance where Ancient Tenements group around the East and West Dart to the East of Dartmoor Forest and the adjoining Spitchwick Manor in the parish of Widecombe in the Moor.  Over the next five years Moor Medieval will look at the Dartmoor Forest parish and five of the parishes that border it.

The study group will take part in research to develop a deeper understanding of medieval life on Dartmoor with particular reference to farming and settlement.

Barbastelle Bat Tracking

20150228 WT MTMTE Barbastelle Bat Volunteer Training

The Barbastelle bat is one of the UK’s more rare bats and there is a lot we don’t know about its life, its behaviour and its habitat. The good news is that the Barbastelle has been found in the Bovey Valley and, under the Moor than meets the eye project, the landscape partnership has put together a plan to study this small flying mammal.

On Saturday 28th February, around 25 people got together at the Woodland Centre in Yarner Woods to put this study in motion. The atmosphere of the day captured the anticipation you might expect from a group of enthusiastic nature lovers about to embark on a new adventure.

The day began with a presentation from Helen Miller of the Bat Conservation Trust. Her passion for bats, even the ugly ones, shone through as she explained the basic ecology of woodland bats and the special skills they possess. The Barbastelle is a woodland bat, roosting in trees and foraging within and around woody areas, though individuals can fly 6-8 km each night searching for food before returning to roost. They prefer oak woods and are known to roost in cracks in trunks, splits in branches and under peeling bark. Trees with decaying limbs and unpruned storm damage may look a bit untidy but they are an ideal home for the Barbastelle.

Dr Ruth Angell gave a short talk on the recent work she had been doing around the reserve to check for Barbastelle activity. Over the last year, she had been using some remote ultrasound recorders in both Yarner Woods and the Bovey Valley Woods, finding that they were still living in the Bovey Valley. We also heard from Simon Lee of Natural England about the Nature Reserve at Yarner Woods, being England’s first NNR back in 1952. Helen Parr from Devon Wildlife Trust explained how a new project was being developed to record information on another rare bat that lives in Devon, the Greater Horseshoe Bat. They have a maternity roost in the area too.

The final spot of the morning was taken by Andy Carr from the University of Bristol. He’s working on a PhD entitled “Bats in Woodland”.  A major part of his study is to find out where the Bovey Valley bats go each night; radio tracking techniques are going to be needed to collect the information. There’s a lot of work to be done and Andy is recruiting a team of volunteers to help. He’ll offer a series of training courses and an opportunity for them to take part in a once in a lifetime project.

20150228 WT MTMTE Barbastelle Bat Volunteer Training2The afternoon was taken up by a walk in the high oak woodland surrounding the Woodland Centre. Dave Rickwood of the Woodland Trust led the walk and we had the chance to inspect many of the dark recesses of the trees where bats could be roosting. Endoscopes provide a view into these cracks and crevices that we wouldn’t normally be privy to, but must be used with great care not to disturb any of the residents.

The training of Barabastelle tracking volunteers will begin in April and the surveys will be carried out all through the summer. The final mapping of all this data is going to be revealing and fascinating, but the questions is, what will be uncovered about the nocturnal activities in the Bovey Valley?

If you want to help with this unique project, contact Dave Rickwood of the Woodland Trust davidrickwood@woodlandtrust.orguk.

By Matt Parkins