Re: Buckfastleigh Town Council Response to Dartmoor National Park Management Plan Review 2020-2025 Draft Consultation
Buckfastleigh Town Council welcomes this review that seeks to address many of the contradictory issues that the park must deal with in this modern and changing age. We fully support the Authority’s commitment to work towards carbon reduction and increased biodiversity. The plan acknowledges other important issues such as an ageing population and lack of affordability for younger people and offers some proposals towards improving these.
The Town Council fully supports the aims of the Glover Landscapes Review (https://tinyurl.com/y58225on) and welcomes the Park’s backing of it. However, we feel that the plan could go further, and be more ambitious and specific in what it proposes to do to achieve this, both in the moorland areas, the farmland borders and the towns and hamlets that many people call home.
We also feel that working with all the communities in the Park including all the Towns and Villages is key to implementing this successfully and would like to see a commitment to working with us actively to achieve these goals.
The impression we have of Dartmoor National Park is that its quality is degraded, both financially, environmentally and within the communities that call Dartmoor home. Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) should address restoration of these aspects as a priority.
A Healthy Park with Healthy habitats, Healthy plans for development and the Health of its communities should be at the heart of the plan. Only by working together with the communities that make up the Park can this be achieved.
We support the DNPA’s aims for Carbon Neutrality, however we feel that it should go farther and be aiming to turn Dartmoor National Park into a Carbon Negative environment using and improving the natural features of the moor to capture carbon and act as a more effective carbon sink.
The ‘windswept upland moors’ are perceived as a ‘Special Quality’ of Dartmoor National Park we feel however that that this is a sign of land that is ecologically degraded. The land management practices over centuries have led to the de-forestation and loss of habitat and biodiversity. Livestock (especially sheep) farming on the land and methods such as swaling lead to compacted, poor quality soil, greater erosion and damage. We would like to see changes to farming practice and management of grazing animals to improve the land and enhance soil quality and flood water retention, biodiversity and carbon retention.
The plan refers to a ‘Stronger enforcement of Traditional Farming Practices’. We would like to see a detailed breakdown of what ‘traditional farming practices’ represent and an involvement with broader communities in deciding which of these might be detrimental to carbon and biodiversity enhancement goals. However, particularly on the outskirts of the moor, we are seeing an increasing use of modern farming practices (large fields, use of pesticides and plastics, removal of traditional field boundaries, natural habitats), which are clearly detrimental.
We would support greater guidance, education, involvement and if necessary, enforcement to reorient farming practice towards a more beneficial relationship with nature, in accordance with the main statutory duty of the Park. We would like to point out that supporting farming per se is not part of the statutory duties of the Park Authority (except indirectly) and maintaining land management status quo for farmers should therefore not take priority. Farming and land management practices must change if we are to mitigate climate change and ecological crisis.
Tourism and Heritage
The Plan should include all the opportunities for Environmental, Trade and Tourism within the communities that call Dartmoor National Park their home. The Plan should look to include the towns and villages around the moor, and help turn them into true Gateways to the rest of Dartmoor through proper investment, education and support for the heritage of the moor, and also the heritage of the towns themselves.
Buckfastleigh has an incredible heritage as an Ancient Woollen Town with a steam railway and a heritage centre as well as natural history with limestone caves providing shelter for nationally important colonies of bats and other species. We would like the Park to do more to support and promote our heritage.
We would like to see a greater commitment to community involvement and investment with community groups, wildlife groups and youth groups from across Devon and the South West being invited to actively take part in developing the future vision and its implementation. Communities can be engaged in education, support, involvement in land restoration and conservation.
Communities are vital to the delivery of the plan. Dartmoor is so much more than the High Moors. DNPA should be working with them and not just the farmers and land managers.
As we move inexorably towards a new climate of increasing winter rainfall and hotter, drier summers, we feel that DNPA should be leading the efforts to help Dartmoor National Park become an environment that is able to both cope with the changes, and also be a place that can benefit the wider climate.
Long term forecasts have already identified that the South West will be facing hotter, drier summers and harder, wetter winters. We would like to see more focus from DNPA on how they intend to manage the different environments in this changing climate.
How will DNPA ensure that the expected heavy floodwaters during the winter are retained in the moorland areas (and not cause damage to downstream residential areas)? What will DNPA be doing to ensure that the longer, hotter summers do not further damage to the natural areas of the moor?
‘…Adopting natural flood management techniques in key catchments to improve water absorption, slow the flow and reduce flood risk…’
We have been fortunate to have been selected as the site of the ongoing pilot project studying methods of natural flood management by the Environment Agency. We believe it is vital that for both the long term resilience of low lying settlements such as Buckfastleigh and also for the enhancement of biodiversity, that the findings of this study be implemented by active support for development of wet woodlands and other measures. We would therefore like to see a commitment by the Park Authority to actively support and implement the measures resulting from this study throughout the Park and to continue to look for and implement ways to naturally mitigate flood risk.
Building and Development
As identified, the challenge of ‘…high house prices driven by the attractiveness of the National Park as a place to live; and low wage levels in key sectors such as agriculture, tourism and leisure…’ threaten the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage as well as the third duty of the park, to ‘…support the well-being of local communities’, as these communities are increasingly becoming dormitory settlements, part-time residences or retirement villages for migrants from more wealthy parts of the country as house prices are driven up beyond reach of local residents.
We applaud the DNPA for committing to their goal of “Mitigating climate change by reducing emissions” and support their commitment to carbon neutrality by 2025.
The current plan however, does not address how DNPA as a planning authority will ensure that new buildings are going to achieve the government’s 2050 net zero target or its own.
Any building being proposed over the coming 25 years is likely to be around long beyond these target dates. It follows, therefore, that all new buildings should be ambitiously and effectively aiming for carbon neutrality in materials, energy efficiency and local renewable generation as well as having minimal detrimental impact on wildlife and environment (and if possible, a positive impact).
If it is to meet these targets (and provide an exemplary model of a response to climate and ecological emergency), where it can, the Park should require these as a minimum requirement in planning applications, and where it cannot currently require this, lobby government to enable implementation.
It is also important to recognise that whatever ideal of low-carbon, low-impact building is set, by definition, low-impact is still net negative impact. The very building of new structures on the moor is inevitably going to have a detrimental effect on wildlife and a net carbon impact. The Park needs to reassess its building targets and restrict new builds to the minimum required for truly affordable housing and resources for local people, rather than permitting development that results in a net inward migration and does not satisfy local housing need as is the current situation.
Better for Nature and Natural Beauty
‘Alive with nature: Networks of healthy habitats that are home to many different plants, insects and animals create a more resilient natural environment connected within and across the boundary of the National Park. Some areas will feel wilder as nature is allowed to take its course.’
The Town Council heartily supports this goal and also supports the recommendation in the Glover Landscapes Review that the National Parks should:
‘…respond with vigour to the decline in the diversity of the natural environment.’
We agree with it that:
‘New forms of farming, carbon emissions, the sprawl of housing, new technology and social shifts have changed the relationship between people and the countryside, and left nature and our climate in crisis. The way we protect and improve our landscapes needs to change radically to respond to this. If their natural beauty is to be in a better condition 70 years from today, even better to look at, far more biodiverse, and alive with people from all backgrounds and parts of the country, they cannot carry on as they do…’
The Park has as its prime statutory duty:
“to conserve and enhance its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage”.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a wide variety of natural landscapes can be found beautiful. We believe that in the light of the climate and ecological emergency that we face, it is time for a radical reassessment of what this prime directive should mean. It is no longer enough to simply attempt to preserve the existing ‘distinctive landscape and valuable biodiversity’ as it is. As the Landscapes Review states, National Parks:
‘…must be more urgent about recovery, not just conserving what we have’.
The National Parks, including Dartmoor have become islands in an ever-increasing sea of nature-poor human landscape. We believe that, as well as conserve that which already exists (a task that it can only fail at as the natural landscape surrounding it becomes more impoverished), The Park should aim to enhance and grow biodiversity within its boundaries. This will mean actively encouraging and supporting the development of more varied landscapes and habitats that are richer in diversity than the often ecologically impoverished nature of much of the moorland which has been created by centuries of human management.
We support the proposals for increased woodland, peat restoration and nature recovery areas (and would like to see details of what these might look like). The changes required to improve biodiversity should also include the reassessment of and changes to grazing and swaling practices that may preserve the traditionally ‘beautiful’ scenery but result in a landscape that is far from ‘natural’ and lacks biodiversity.
In the event of a favourable result from the review of results of the beaver reintroduction project on the river Otter and elsewhere, we believe that the re-introduction of beavers in tandem with other natural flood management measure would greatly enhance landscape and biodiversity as well as slow down river run-off and therefore alleviate flood risk. We would therefore like to see a commitment to support this reintroduction.
Alongside this, we also want to see proper protections put in place when populations are reintroduced so we don’t see a repeat of the situation in Scotland where up to a hundred of the small population of beavers have been killed under licence (and many more illegally) within 10 years of reintroduction.
We fully support the DNPA’s aims to enhance biodiversity and address climate emergency. The current draft Management Plan review sets out admirable goals with good intentions with regard to the Park’s response to the climate and ecological emergency, but we would like to see more specific proposals that provide a path to achieving these.
To refer to the Glover review, what we need is a ‘strengthened Management Plan with clear targeted actions to recover nature, underpinned by robust assessments of the state of nature and natural capital in our national landscapes’ that sets ‘… ambitious proposals to support the climate challenges we face …… on tree planting and peatland restoration, as well as how to support wilder areas…’.
We need a roadmap with clear targets for tree planting, peat restoration, natural flood management, modification to farming methods and the rest, a time-frame for implementation and a commitment to meeting these targets or at least a time-frame in the Management Plan for when this roadmap will be ready.
We would like to see targets developed in conjunction and consultation with the many knowledgeable individuals and groups within our communities. There is a wealth of expertise and local knowledge that would help provide both the most effective outcomes and ensure a local investment of interest in securing these.
We applaud the goal to get young people more aware and invested in the Park and the natural world. We would like to see schemes developed and put in place where DNPA work actively with schools and youth groups to educate and encourage young people to be aware and responsible for the moor.
Better for Cultural Heritage
We welcome the commitment to continue monitoring and maintain heritage assets and the commitment to work with communities to maintain character. We would like however, to know more about what the DNPA intend to do to support towns and communities with historic buildings to maintain them and protect them for the future as they suffer from the impacts of climate and ageing.
Cultural heritage is also not just about preserving buildings but the activities which go on within them.
Better for Farming and Forestry
Given the impact of Brexit, and now Covid-19, supporting and ensuring the continuity of farming and forestry in the moor is important, and enhancing and strengthening the link between moorland farmers and communities on the borders must be of greater importance.
Better for People
Sustainable transport – what are DNPA’s plans to manage an ever-increasing reliance on the motor vehicle?
Over recent years, we have seen public transport options within and in and out of the Park reduced as private operators find them unprofitable, increasing the dependence on cars and leading to more car trips on local roads, with the commensurate increase in carbon footprint, polluting emissions and environmental, ecological and health impacts.
As transport options disappear in combination with the decline of local resources (shops, libraries, hospitals, education etc.), a whole section of our communities, particularly the young, the old and the poor, those without their own transport become increasingly isolated and abandoned leading to a spiral of deprivation.
Here in Buckfastleigh we have supported and subsidised walking groups and regular bike-bus expeditions in the summer months and a tourist bus from the Abbey into town and, like other communities, are looking at possibilities for subsidised bus services to help get local people in particular in and out of our town centres
We would like to see more plans and support for sustainable public transport provision, through either secure park and ride options from the moorland towns into the interior and improved facilities for cyclists and walkers.
We would like any provision of public transport to have the ability to carry cycles from the bordering villages and towns where parking could be provided and drop off these visitors at the interior of the moor, as well as the provision of bike hubs in towns for people to start and end their journeys.
Increasing car parking charges is clearly not the way to reduce reliance on car usage. In the absence of other transport options, it merely puts the moor out of reach of local people on lower incomes!
We welcome the mention of increased electric car charging points, but how is this to be managed with the obvious decrease in parking for current non-electric vehicles?
Communities need support for employment through tourism, specialist skills and local trades such as wool and leather work.
We would like to see support for communities to increasing the spread of visitors away from the ‘honey pots’ into lesser known areas. Buckfastleigh for instance, receives fewer visitors than other settlements on the moor, despite having much to offer, including its industrial heritage (trains, wool trade, mills), geological (caves) and natural history (bats and prehistoric animals in the quarries). Like other local communities, Buckfastleigh needs help to return it to a dynamic, thriving community following the loss of traditional industry and employment.
Woodland cover – we support the proposals that the large areas of woodland should be retained and increased, and where possible returned to native broad leaf species. In addition to restoring the landscape to its original character, this will also encourage native wildlife and work towards managing water run-off and act as a carbon sink.
Landscape – Natural Flood Management and species reintroduction may mean changes such as allowing streams to meander where they have been straightened by tin streaming, or tree planting may be required within Premier Archaeological Landscapes and other areas which will impact on heritage assets and will change the landscape character. We believe the Park needs to recognise and commit fully to these priority changes and take steps to involve and inform communities to ensure that they are fully are on-side with these changes.
Nature Recovery Areas
We welcome the commitment to creating Nature Recovery Areas but would like to see a commitment to implementing these on a larger scale and more confident than within the plan. In the midst of an ecological emergency we fear that the current proposals will be ‘too little, too late’ to have any meaningful impact and that bolder initiatives are appropriate form the Park authority.
Through discussions with relevant parties, we understand that the valleys of the River Mardle and River Dean have been suggested as suitable locations. We would therefore like to propose a much larger area consisting of a mix of High Moor, Wooded Valley and Rural Communities that stretches from Whiteworks in the North East to Ashburton in the North West, and then using the Park Boundary and A38 to incorporate the towns of Buckfast, Buckfastleigh, South Brent and Ivybridge. The High Moor area has some of the remotest parts of the moor, and is relatively free of people, whilst the rural towns and valleys will welcome extra protections around preserving the many different aspects that make Dartmoor National Park such a unique place to call home.
Beyond the Park…
As government development targets initiate massive housing projects all around the region, leading to a greatly increased population over the next few years, has DNPA taken into account how this might increase traffic and footfall onto the moor and what are its plans for managing this?
Judith M. Hart
Buckfastleigh Town Clerk