On 17 October 2020 we found that someone had created a new fireplace close to one of the restored areas. Trees had been damaged to provide the firewood (a criminal offence in a SSSI) and the grass destroyed. Rubbish was left among the ash.
What sort of person thinks they have any right to do this? Who is so arrogant that they think they are entitled to damage an area of national conservation importance and leave it for others to clear up? What sort of sick society do we live in when people with so little understanding of personal responsibility have a right of access on to this land? And why do we (a) have to clean this up and (b) have to face the consequences of Natural England telling us that we are not upholding our legal responsibility to protect a SSSI on our land?
After all the work through this year, this is nothing short of sickening. We are angry and demoralised. Anyone found doing this sort of thing will be met with a hostile reaction.
But why did no one else report it? Lots of responsible people visit Piles every day. Did no one see this happening? Could no one have told either us or the National Park rangers? Piles does not stay nice by magic; it needs you to stand up for its protection. If you are worried about accosting people, let us know what is happening as soon as possible. We can go there with back-up and authority.
We cleared and seeded eight large fire-damaged areas and a number of smaller fire sites in the early spring. For this we used a moorland seed mix provided by the Dartmoor National Park Authority. We roped them off to stop people walking on the germinating and young grass. In several cases, the rocks were used to rebuild the walls from which they had been looted over the years.
Here’s a picture of one site in February 2020.
It was then dry for the best part of several months, Although the grass mostly germinated, it did not grow particularly well in most of the sites. However, being mostly shaded, the site pictured above did quite well. Here’s a picture of it after three months, in May 2020.
Summer was quite wet, so we reseeded areas that were still bare and continued protecting all of the sites. Here it is in June.
It’s now looking better again, but we don’t seem to have a recent picture.
We are planning to remove the posts and ropes from most of the restored areas, in the hope that they will continue to thrive over the next few years, and with the consideration that the roping is unsightly. However, the most damaged areas remain still quite worn, so we will need to continue the protection there.
We’ve continued to be busy at Piles and several months have passed since we found a moment to write a blog post.
So here’s the bit of wall repaired in July. The grass has now grown along the top, but for some reason walkers are using it as a path, so we’ll need to put something there to stop that happening. It hasn’t been damaged yet, but it will be eventually if people keep using it.
We’ve also repaired another sizeable section of wall, plus some smaller collapses, near the downstream end of the copse. This is near the ford that is sometimes used for watering by cattle on Stall Moor, which them come across the river and into the copse. This work makes the copse cattle-proof from the west. That said, there haven’t been cattle on the adjacent part of Stall Moor for some years, but that could change any time.
Here are before, during and after pictures of this section. We seeded grass on the backfill and on the disturbed ground in front, and that has germinated and is now growing.
In the even light during the rain yesterday, it was easier to photograph how the grass is growing in some of our fire place restoration sites.
However, the sites that are most compacted or get full sunlight (where grass germinated but then died in the recent drought) are not doing so well. We have started reseeding those again, hoping that we’ll get enough rain over the next month.
Really frustrating, though, is the fact that in the last week someone has had another fire, close to a “No Fires” sign, and destroyed nearly a square metre of grass. It is hard to understand the mentality of people who think that they can damage a beautiful place and that it is someone else’s responsibility to get it looking nice again before they come again.
Worse, there are also little piles of toilet paper and wet wipes in places. As COVID-19 remains active in faeces for some time, we are reluctant to clean these up quickly. And, as long as COVID-19 is with us, we don’t see how we will be able to give permission for people to camp in future since we know that illegal campers are doing this (and by giving permission we are raising our legal duty of care).
As explained in March, we have embarked on a campaign to restore the areas of the wood damaged by fires and associated damage. We have now made some progress in repairing the walls using the rocks removed from them to make fireplaces. We have also cleaned out and reseeded a number of fireplaces, using a moorland grass mix provided by the DNPA Ranger.
Here’s a general view of one area roped off for restoration, and the rebuilt wall near it.
And here’s another site. It’s a bit difficult to see with the dappled sunlight, but the grass is growing quite well despite the lack of rain.
We are unfortunately obliged to forbid anyone to camp at Piles during the coronavirus restrictions. This is mainly because, if you had an accident or became ill while you were there, you would cause unnecessary risk to the rescuers.
Meanwhile, the good news is that the growing season is coming, and reduced footfall will hopefully allow the ground to recover more quickly. After a very wet autumn and winter, path and general sward damage has been exceptional. Increased numbers of walkers when it has been very wet has led to unprecedented wear on many routes. Also, someone rode a horse through the copse when it was very wet, leaving hoof marks depressing the turf by around 50 mm. It will be years before these disappear.
In the past we’ve allowed people to light open fires at Piles Copse. However, recently we’ve become concerned about the impact that this is having. Fires are directly and indirectly the biggest cause of damage to the copse.
In the wood’s popular camping spots, fires have damaged grass, walls and trees. Although we ask people not to damage the trees, there are lots of places where branches have been sawn or broken off to be used as firewood. Natural England have also asked us to stop people having fires because it is affecting some of the habitats for which Piles Copse is an SSSI. In hot, dry weather lighting fires can also increase the risk of wildfires breaking out.
Following a discussion with staff from the Dartmoor National Park Authority, we have decided to ban open fires at Piles Copse, which is in line with the rules for the open moor. We’ll be updating the signs at Piles over the next few months, and ask anyone visiting Piles Copse to respect this new rule. You are still welcome to use small, portable camping stoves for cooking, but please don’t put them on the grass.
We will also rope off the damaged areas and try to restore them. This will take some years, so we also ask you to respect the need for this, and to keep out of these areas.