Belstone Annual Parish Meeting 2021
Like most of you here tonight, you have been forced or otherwise to get used to the trials and tribulations of online meeting platforms like Zoom but thank goodness for the technology that has enabled some communication to continue, despite the formidable constraints that have been rightly imposed on us since March 2020. Hopefully, it will not be too long before face to face meeting becomes the norm
The short period when I felt guilty being able to continue to work in such an amazing landscape devoid of people when most were confined to their homes, soon evaporated when the first unlocking occurred! In 30 years of work for DNPA, I have never experienced such volumes of people wanting to visit their local countryside and although most took a great deal of responsibility whilst doing this, it is the ones that did not, that you always remember!
The Ranger Service was pulled from pillar to post dealing with a host of issues including illegal camping (now known as fly-camping); open fires; litter; antisocial behaviour and the Family of Living Light who descended on woodland in the Dart Valley, illegal cutting down ancient woodland and generally despoiling the area without any real understanding of what they were doing.
For the first time in DNPA history, we had to use special powers, under the Dartmoor Commons Act, to prohibit camping on Riddon Ridge, near Bellever Woods due to the excessive damage to the common and employ enforcement officers to monitor and enforce, especially during the evening periods in the summer months. Dartmoor was not alone in this as I am sure most of you witnessed in the media reports elsewhere in the country, but it was a very sad and a trying time for us all.
Our local volunteers, mainly from the Sticklepath and Okehampton Conservation Group (StOC), continued to provide an excellent service as soon as the three lockdowns were eased, keeping many of the paths open and clear from seasonal vegetation growth, amongst many other projects. They are a major asset to the local area and celebrate their 30th Anniversary in September this year.
They, along with some residents, finally completed the small project to ‘open up’ a part of the area known as The Cliff in Belstone Cleave. Most of the rockface is now obscured by dense vegetation which would be detrimental to remove but following discussions with Belstone Commoners Association, our Ecologist and obtaining approval from Natural England, a small area of gorse was cleared helping to maintain the acid grassland and a view of the cliff.
My thanks as usual to my Voluntary Warden, Ian Solomon, who continues to complete various tasks in the area and of course for the tremendous local support for other projects that I am involved with.
I would also like to thank the local people who have made a real effort to speak to people who sometimes are unknowingly (or sometimes knowingly), breaking byelaws such as sleeping overnight in vehicles on the common. We will never eradicate this activity entirely, but it has reduced due to this concerted effort and the message is getting around that this will not be tolerated. I was, however, somewhat amused recently when allegedly this offence was reported as being carried out by the owner of a vehicle over several consecutive nights. On closer inspection it was a local person using his vehicle on the edge of the common as an office during the day whilst giving his wife some respite at home!