Are Wild Swimmers Jeopardising Dartmoor’s Natural beauty?
Updated: Sep 30
The Western Morning News reports:
“Tourists’ Antisocial Behavior is Jeopardising Dartmoor’s Beauty”
We need visitors but they’re not necessarily good for the environment, writes Martin Hesp…
An example lies on the desk before me on the cover of a quarterly publication called Dartmoor Matters, which is the mouthpiece of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA). The head-line asks: “Is Dartmoor too popular for its own good?”
The publication’s editor, Fiona Senior, writes: “This is a strange question for the DPA to be asking, given that one of our objectives is the protection and preservation of public access to and on Dartmoor. Sometimes, however, there is a downside…” …like fly-tipping, fires and barbecues, abandoned vehicles (many burned out), off-road driving, livestock worrying by dogs, and so on…
The rangers say that £20,000 a year is spent by the national park authority in disposing of the litter, a figure that does not include staff time which means the actual cost could be double.
The article includes some thoughts of a Dartmoor landowner concerning the subject of “wild swimming” in remoter river valleys which he says are being spoilt by crowds who turn up with dogs and rubber boats. The landowner says until now he has been supportive of outdoor activities and has actively encouraged it on his property.
“The result of my kindness leaves an area of devastation… together with uncouth behaviour, including drunkenness, defecation and overuse,” he says. “Little of nature remains. Grazing animals have largely been driven away, but the few remaining for the winter months often suffer serious injuries or death from the ingestion of plastic bags and bottle tops in their hoofs.”Ms Senior adds: “Sadly much the same can be said of a number of popular spots on the moor… Is this a manifestation of the urban/rural divide with some town dwellers being immune to and tolerating a level of litter and damage that we don’t normally find in an unspoiled natural environment?”
The article points out that changing behaviour has also played a part. For example, home-prepared picnics are no longer the norm – nowadays people turn up with portable barbecues and packs of sausages and burgers as well as crisps and canned drinks – all of which come in wrappers or containers that can all too easily be dumped.
To be fair, Ms Senior ends her article by telling a story that shows there is another side to the subject. She recalls how she came across a large group of youths camping in the moors with music blaring and “evidence of the previous evening’s revels lying around”. Half an hour later when she returned past the site, the kids were leaving – along with two bin bags full of rubbish. The place was spotless.
And I am glad that Ms Senior chose to end her article in this way – because of course we must share the great treasure we are lucky enough to have on our own doorsteps. The beautiful rural Westcountry is not the sole preserve of those fortunate enough to live in it or, indeed, of all those nice middle-class nature lovers who wouldn’t dream of leaving anything more than a footprint.
However, there is an old-fashioned word called “respect” and the countryside needs a lot of it. Because, although it is vast and all-embracing, it cannot answer back or fend for itself. This is why it is a great shame that national park budgets are being cut.
But this subject also causes me to think of the national curriculum which is so overly tight and prescriptive. People need to learn the concept of respect, they cannot just be told to have it – and the best learning that we ever do happens when we are young.
Respect for the countryside will come if children are taken regularly into wild areas and shown how precious, delicate, fabulous and important they are.
Ideally, we should not be a nation ringed by signs shouting: “DO NOT!”. Instead, we should be a country in which people quietly and automatically think: “I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.”