I know that I am immensely privileged to live and work in Dartmoor National Park. It is a National Park precisely because it is beautiful, unspoilt and an important natural environment that we, collectively, think is worthwhile preserving.
Lots of people; locals, people from the rest of the UK and from all over the world, come to visit and enjoy Dartmoor, and so they should – it’s a National Park and everyone is better for being close to the natural world. But what happens when too many people visit the same spot at the same time with very different ideas of what they want to do and how to behave?
This is the dilemma that has been facing our local community during the heatwave. New Bridge car park is the first car park on the moor coming up one of the major routes onto Dartmoor. It sits on the banks of the river Dart, is a beautiful spot and a good place to explore up and down stream, to start a walk on the moor or just to sit by the river and enjoy. It is a rightly popular destination. And then there is “Spitchwick” or Deeper Marsh to give it it’s correct name – a wide open space created by a bend in the river with good swimming places, small islands to explore and a crumbling cliff face that it has become a badge of honour for groups of young thrill-seekers to climb up and jump off into the water. It regularly features in media lists of top places to wild swim in the UK.
It all sounds perfect doesn’t it?
Last weekend the car parks were full by early in the day. so later comers parked wherever they could – sqeezing extra places into the car park nearly causing gridlock, along the side of narrow country lanes, up the side of Newbridge Hill including all around the side of a blind bend forcing other traffic onto the wrong side of the road, in the passing places left where roads are too narrow for two cars abreast, across field gates, across the gates to local residents homes and I am told even cutting chains put up to protect private land and on up private drives, though I can’t verify the last point. Local residents who had gone out about their normal lives came back to find they couldn’t get back into their homes by car. Chaos broke out around the bridge itself, which can only accomodate one car at a time, with a friend taking 20 minutes just to get over the bridge on Sunday evening. Thankfully there wasn’t a fire or other emergency, because there would have been no chance of an ambulance or fire engime getting through. Many visitors packed all their rubbish up and took it home or put it in the bins at New Bridge, for which thank you very much, but two Park Rangers still removed 83 bin liners of rubbish from “Spitchwick” itself on Monday morning! Understandably feelings were running pretty high around here all week.
Let me be clear – I’m not saying everyone who came last weekend, or who may come this weekend, behaved badly, because most of them didn’t. I’m not saying people shouldn’t come and enjoy the moor – I love seeing people out enjoying the moor. But what do we do when the sheer popularity of a part of Dartmoor threatens to overwhelm and destroy the very reason for it’s popularity? What do we do when the way some people want to enjoy a natural environment is completley at odds with that environment? As they say – answers on a postcard please!