2016 Review – October

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Dunster Castle in Exmoor’s Dark Skies Reserve (Photo credit: Jonathan Blackham)

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me….”. We’re following the Twelve Days of Christmas theme to look back on some of the activities, events and news items that provided an insight into life at Exmoor National Park through 2016.

During October we ranged from a light-hearted celebration of our creation, via a delve into Exmoor Society archives to a vital project to provide affordable housing on Exmoor.

National Exmoor Day

15430533760_95980b777e_kThe 19th October is the date of Exmoor National Park’s birthday (Exmoor became the 8th National Park to come into being in 1954 on that date when the Designation Order made by the National Parks Commission was confirmed by the Minister for Housing and Local Government Harold Macmillan). As a bit of light-hearted fun befitting social media, we decided to declare that date #NationalExmoorDay! We’re hoping in future to take this idea international, as our research uncovered 4 other Exmoors around the world – in the USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa.

Exmoor Rural Housing Network

erhnIt can be difficult for people living on Exmoor to find affordable homes close to work and family, with the risk that village community life will suffer as people are forced to move out of the area. Enabling more affordable housing in Exmoor has been a long term priority for the National Park. This month we launched the Exmoor Rural Housing Network and commissioned Devon Communities Together to work across Exmoor to help local people looking for a home, in the right place that they can afford. This new project builds on the success of the Rural Housing Project between 2006 and 2012, providing more than 100 new affordable homes in the National Park for local people in housing need.

The majority of these new homes benefitted from public funding from the Homes & Communities Agency but since 2010, the majority of funding support for rural housing has been withdrawn.  These changes, combined with local government cuts and other changes sadly led to the eventual winding up of the Rural Housing Project in 2015. However this created the opportunity of bringing together Exmoor-based organisations with an interest in housing to explore new ways forward. The Rural Housing Network will create a register of people who are looking for alternative housing so that there is a better understanding of the locations and type of housing that is needed.  To help with this work it will be recruiting and training ‘Local Housing Contacts’ to act as a link within communities and help signpost households in housing need to the appropriate organisations.

New Project for Exmoor Society Archives

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The Longstone – this image was taken in 1972 – courtesy of the Exmoor Society archive

Dr Helen Blackman, a professional outreach archivist, has been working for the Exmoor Society since 2014 to undertake a project “Unlocking Exmoor’s Heritage”, cataloguing and conserving key documents and papers. The archive has demonstrated the complex inter-relationship between people and the environment within this long-established, traditional rural community. And this project has been so successful, the Society announced a new 2-year venture enabling Dr Blackman to delve further and lead on several new projects. These include acting as a hub for local history and archive groups; launching Exmoor Studies (series of short books inspired by the Exmoor Review); a conference on Exmoor as an English outback and a book-length history of the National Park.

You might expect an archivist to be stuck in a dusty back-room searching through records, but this has not been Dr Blackman’s experience! “Of all the things I’ve done since becoming the Exmoor Society’s archivist, wading in the River Barle to find out exactly where a photograph had been taken some 40 years ago was probably one of the oddest. Archive training does not usually involve risk assessment in water – in fact archives and water do not mix well. But there I was, slipping around in a pair of borrowed wellies, peering intently at a bridge parapet to try to work out if I’d got the angle right (I hadn’t).”

The Society has found that attempting to rediscover the same place hones your observation skills and enables a deeper understanding of landscape quality. There are over 1500 slides depicting locations across the moor so the task is enormous and the Society is seeking people to help retake them. The Then & Now photographs will enable the Exmoor Society to influence future landscape change by providing evidence of how the moor has evolved.

Bits & Pieces

  • We had a visit by a delegation from the South Korea National Parks Service to talk about planning policies and park management.
  • This year’s Exmoor Archaeology Forum looked at the current work and research of our built heritage, covering new investigations into the historic settlements of Dunster, Dulverton and Porlock.
  • Exmoor National Park was recognised by a national newspaper as one of the most peaceful placed to be in Britain
  • We had our last Exmoor Big Adventure of 2016 during half-term at Webbers Post, near Wheddon Cross

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