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A Contested Land

Weirdly we've had a few days walking on Dartmoor. "Weirdly" as this fascinating landscape is only 2 hours down the road. We had a great time, with almost the full Dartmoor weather experience thrown in - we missed the snow by a couple of days! A special shout out to the Landmark Trust, who we stayed with in Lettaford, and the Chagford Inn - great place for lunch.

Quite apart from walking through such  varied and stunning lanscapes, it's impossible not to be moved by the archaeology littering the National Park and the notion of Bronze Age ancestors tramping along exactly the same tracks we were. The reaves and more modern (relatively!) stone walls are astonishing.

We met some magnificent trees, and I was fascinated to see some of the fragments of temperate rainforest Guy Shrubsole has recently written about. Dartmoor has a fragile and complicated ecosystem, but one over which warring factions argue. It's ironic that relationships between people and nature are so uncomfortable in a place inhabited and managed for millenia.

We were visiting on a wintery weekend in March, but there was still a fantastic number of people (and cars). Including us, of course. But many of these visitors weren't behaving particularly well. The majority of dog owners, for example, had their pooches off leads - despite signs warning about livestock and ground nesting birds. If there are lots of visitors they're going to do damage almost whatever they do. I'm all for the right to roam in theory, but in practice I've got a lot of sympathy for farmers who are opposed to it. It's a big issue on the moor at the moment. 

I was also astonished by the number of non-native invasive plants I saw, mostly close to gardens. Stands of bamboo, smelly Skunk cabbage (photo, below), swathes of stonking big daffodil cultivars, pretty Pink purslane (right - a new plant for me), and of course the pervasive snowberry and Lonicera nitida in hedgelines. I guess our new flora are another symptom of the age of globalisation...

More depressing but as surprising was the extent of the Molinia grass across the Park. I'd been vaguely aware of this problem as it has been the source of heated exchanges on social media, but hadn't appreciated the scale of it. No-one wants it - graziers or conservationists - but how to get rid of it? It's complicated, and I don't pretend to fully understand the issues involved.

To add to this cocktail are problems with climate change - increased heavy rainfall events and drought. Shifting weather patterns have driven the way human activity changes Dartmoor for thousands of years, but the speed and severity of the current crisis is something altogether more threatening.

There are seemingly intractable problems when 21st century Britain collides with a Bronze Age landscape. Or indeed any kind of landscape, come to think of it.