With the warmer weather, the grass is starting to grow. This is the time for us to re-seed areas that have been damaged by various things.
At the southern edge of the copse, heavy footfall by livestock in the autumn, and by people throughout the year, has led to some sections of popular routes becoming badly eroded. After Christmas we roped off some areas and placed signs asking people to avoid them. This had some effect, but not enough.
We have now put a strand of barbed wire around one of the worst-affected areas and have sown it with grass seed (moorland mix, courtesy of the National Park rangers). Hopefully this will allow that area to restore while the traffic is diverted on to the brackeny slope above.
Spreading grass seed on an eroded route at the southern end of the copse
One of the problems at Piles, as elsewhere in Dartmoor, is that there are no paths. If everyone spreads out, then the sward wear, soil compaction and erosion are not significant. But if livestock and people go along the same routes, it is not long before both sward and soil are damaged. This happens very much faster when it is wet, as the soil loses cohesion.
The few bridleways in this part of the moor are either old roads (such as from Harford to Owley), or were access routes to tin streaming areas, such as Stowford to Stoney Bottom. All were medieval or older, and are now defunct. Mostly their routes can only be traced by depressions through the ground. The depths of these depressions show that not only was all the vegetation and topsoil lost, but the combination of packhorses, rain and runoff cut quite deep into the subsoil as well.
Ultimately we have to make a choice between three options regarding popular access routes.
- Spread out and avoid damaging the soil.
- Spend a lot of time, materials, energy and money to develop paved footpaths in a network across the moor.
- Let the popular routes erode until they look like the old routes of the middle ages, with the vegetation gone and the peat and soil washing down into the rivers.
Obviously the first is the cheapest and simplest option, and the one that is most environmentally sound. But even that is not without problems: ground-nesting birds are more disturbed by people walking over wider areas.