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.
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.
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.
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.
by Matt Parkins
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 email@example.com
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.
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.
The 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Matt Parkins
We’ve had a superb response to our symposium. All the general release tickets have now been booked! I am waiting to hear from a few invited guests to make sure they are coming. If there are any spare tickets I will release them on February 16th
You will be able to book them through http://moormedieval.brownpapertickets.com
If you are unable to attend or have not been able to get a ticket but are interested in the Moor Medieval Project and any future events please email me so I can keep you informed and I can add you to our regular newsletter update
Andy Bailey – email@example.com
Its been a busy first month for the MTMTE project team, getting to grips with the overall scheme and the individual projects that make it up. We are now very much at home in our office up at Princetown and happy to say hello to all of you if you are popping by. The weather has proved a bit tricky on a couple of occasions with snow and ice but nothing to stop us yet! You get a real sense of the whole scheme and how it sits in such a dynamic landscape as you drive through it each morning.
The team has been out and about visiting some of the projects. We got out earlier in the month for an excellent tour of Higher Uppacott, medieval longhouse to discover why it is so special and see what works were planned for this year as part of MTMTE
With 28 projects making up the overall scheme MTMTE will be working closely with the individual project leads to ensure we deliver what we said we would and on budget. The first project leads meeting was held on Thursday 5th February at Ilsington Village Hall and it provided an opportunity to meet up with the new team and share progress so far. It was also a chance to see the bigger picture and how the projects fit together to tell the story of the people and landscape of Dartmoor over 4,000 years.
Landscape Partnership Board Meeting
The Board will meet quarterly to provide an executive role overseeing the management of the scheme and the project team. The next board meeting will be on Wednesday 27th February at Princetown
It has been a busy month working with the new MTMTE team and helping them become more familiar with the fantastic range of projects that make up the scheme.
In between I have been working with Chudleigh Knighton C of E Primary School and Moretonhampstead Primary School developing links between the schools and the National Nature Reserve at East Dartmoor.
These visits have helped the children explore the natural world both on their doorstep and out at the reserve.
On the 29th January I worked with Moretonhampstead taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. I went into the school and helped them survey their school grounds and introduced them to basic bird id techniques. The day was also an opportunity to discuss the Moorland Birds project which is part of MTMTE.
The children had a great time, although it did become increasingly wintery as the day progressed. Roll on the spring and birdwatching in the sunshine!
As part of the Woodland Trust’s work with MTMTE there will be a Woodcraft Activity Day for schools on Friday 13th February and a public open day on the 14th. Chudleigh Knighton and Widecombe Primary schools are booked in and will investigate woodland management past and present- watching a mobile saw mill processing felled timber and working with Running Deer to look at traditional greenwoodcrafts such as polelathing and hurdle making. Chudleigh Knighton will be able to see timber being planked which will become a seat in their school grounds where they do their forest school sessions
For more information contact Andy Bailey firstname.lastname@example.org