Dartmoor at 60—unfinished business

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‘We congratulate the Dartmoor National Park on its sixtieth birthday—but there is still plenty of unfinished business.’

So declared Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary at an event on Sunday (31 July) at Meldon reservoir, near Okehampton, organised by Devon Ramblers to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Dartmoor National Park. About 150 people attended.

Kate continued: ‘There are still major gaps in public access in the park. At the end of March the access agreement for land at Southdown, Meldon, ended and the park authority had insufficient funds to renew it at the cost demanded by the landowner.

No access to Southdown, Meldon, with the ending of the access agreement on 31 March 2011.

‘The public is still barred from the wonderful Vixen Tor and we await the outcome of the public inquiry into path claims there.

‘Moreover, the government has ceased to offer access payments as part of the Higher Level Stewardship funding, even though these brought immense public benefit.

‘Much of Dartmoor is now undergrazed because the agricultural support system is not geared specifically to Dartmoor’s conditions; the traditional hill-farming system is at risk. If land is undergrazed, it gets swamped in vegetation which is bad for public access, the habitat and archaeology. We hope the national park authority, working with the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, Natural England and wildlife and access bodies, can find a speedy solution.

‘Military training continues on vast swathes of northern Dartmoor, and the military seeks to renew its consent at Cramber Tor, on south-west Dartmoor, which expires in 2013. As long ago as 1977, Lady Sharp announced that “military training and a national park are discordant, incongruous and inconsistent”. Nothing has changed.

‘So the national park has important and challenging times ahead, as it faces ever swingeing and totally unjust budget cuts from central government.

‘We call on the government to recognise the value of national parks to the nation, for delivering health and happiness, challenge and enjoyment, as places of tranquillity rich in natural beauty. Ministers must ensure that the parks get the funding they need to do their vital job in promoting and protecting our most splendid landscapes and public access to them,’ Kate concluded.

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