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