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Chagford Parish:
a human landscape

Chagford is a rural community town on the north-eastern fringe of Dartmoor, in South West England. In 2019 the Parish Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency, following similar declarations by Government and councils all over the UK. Jo and Gemma helped Chagford Parish Council gather the views of residents for a community conversation about people’s relationship with nature and possible responses to climate and ecological change.

Made by Jo Barratt and Gemma Mortensen.

Featuring the voices of the people of Chagford Parish, including Arlo Whittel, Belinda Haytor-Hames, Bo Davis, Chris Mount, Cornelia Holyoak, Dave Jelfs, Ed Hamer, Emma Cunis, Fred Orme, Gay Hill, Julia Cotts, Kate Webber, Louis Davis, Martin Perryman, Nick Hamilton, Oliver Brooks-Warner, Pam Pigeon, Rev Paul Seatonburn, Richard Mortimore, Simon Saunders, Tom Mount, Tony Whitehead.

Music by Dhevdhas Nair. Additional live music performed by Lisa Rowe, Rupert E Smith and Amye Farrell

With thanks to Chris Chapman and the Chagford Parish Council Climate and Ecological Emergency Working Group


Probably in bigger towns and cities, people probably don’t have that connection with nature that we do. You might not realise the loss of wildlife, the loss of insects, the polluted water, all that kind of thing, because they’re nowhere near it. We get to see incredible wildlife and things that most people may not even see in their whole lives.

I love the trees. I love the moor, I love the river. As a child, we used to spend our time poking round the roots of trees and hanging out by the streams and planting bulbs and things like that. So I know it very, very intimately.

I really like the frogs. Um, I like the daffodils and I like the trees as well. And the river and rocks.

I love Birds cause they’re adorable. I love animals because they’re adorable. I like natural structures because sometimes they can be really cool and, you know, I love everything about nature.

I love seeing snakes down at Padley Common, I just like exploring really.

Um, it makes me feel amazing. I just love looking around and looking at all the beautiful things

During autumn, the leaves fall off the trees, and it makes it really fun to play in.

Well, one of my favourite trees is an Oak because they grow massive and they’re just beautiful. I love their leaves and I like how they let down acorns. It’s just amazing.

I like, um, the forests, like right behind my house.

I love the moors and I love animals. It’s so quiet and then you can see everything. So, so high up, um, there’s very little animals. There’s only the ponies

the beauty of the place it’s in it’s bleak and barren wilderness. Every corner of it. It’’s got an archeological history, as well as agricultural history.

Years ago, there’d have been big herds of animals moving over it. Constantly. There’s some cave paintings of some ponies that resembled Dartmoor ponies that are 50,000 years old in France. It not natural. You can go anywhere and find walls, strip lynchets, stone rows, where people have lived. Dartmoor has never been as uninhabited as it.

We still have the old laws of the common land, which can be grazed by various people. With my cricket head on I have a slightly different view on that because it does mean that people, if they wished, could graze on the cricket pitch, which would make my life a little trickier, but on the whole, the community is very respectful and tends not to and uses the other areas.

It’s very hard I find in Chagford to convince people that this is a Dartmoor area with Dartmoor farms. And that is a very different to going to Wiltshire or somewhere like that, where you have fields which are big enough to have four or five combines working all the time. I mean, in this area, we’ve never had anything like that. You couldn’t, and also the majority of farmers here are still traditional farmers.

When the hierarchy raised a militia here abouts they called them the potato men, because that was a huge source of revenue. And that allowed them to employ people because it was a cash crop. I can remember all these barns full of potatoes. You’d spend the autumn digging potatoes. Well the spring planting potatoes, the autumn digging potatoes. And then the winter riddling them, sacking them off for distribution.

If you didn’t farm and you didn’t do forestry, you either worked in one of the shops locally and you may have been in business locally, but the businesses in Chagford work towards the countryside.

This is a landscape that has been thoroughly worked by people it’s been settled by people for thousands of years, it’s been farmed by people and it’s also been dug by people. It’s the spoil heaps or the rivers that have been slightly straightened, not enough to really notice, but you say, why is that river straight? Oh, as the tinners that did that. And yet it has the feeling of wild about it. You can’t deny that when you got there, you get the feeling of wilderness and big skies and big open places. And yet it’s a very much a human landscape.

Maybe it’s that word wonder. That connectedness, this whole community of creation, something being restored as well is deeply moving.

You only have to see around the world that things are deteriorating rapidly in certain countries and, locally, we have very, very mild winters. Spring, autumn, winter, all merge into one really. There are no real seasons these days.

It’s just starting to turn cold, but coming up to Christmas years ago, it used to snow and it was cold. Sort of like winter is where spring is slowly go in where spring is now

When I used to grow up and we used to have school holidays and that never, ever rained at all, it was always hot, but it’s not like that now is it? we don’t get very good summers. You know.

Pam used to live right here by the river floods all the time. It doesn’t just flood this side. Now it flips the other side. It floods at Mill End.

If you take the old pictures of the countryside in Chagford parish, there’s hardly any trees. There’s no hedges, it’s bare grazed countryside. Whereas now it’s all overgrown full of sycamores and nonsense. Ferns. Fuzz.

Because I never been there and I grew up with valerian by the seaside. That’s a flower. It’s beautiful. I mean, it’s extraordinary rare now. I mean, it’s just heaving with insects, butterflies. It’s just one of many I can tell you about, but I can’t one come to mind, but for valerian is my particular pet.

You know, you try and look back and remember things accurately, which is very difficult, but I am yes quite surprised when things come out and flower.

So I’ve got photographs from my grandmother’s albums, where for example, all the way up from Roundy Pound up to Kes Tor was where there was lots and lots of Heather’s purples and pinks and whites and the same over near Scorhill and it’s just not there anymore.

There’s no lapwing anymore. That’s definitely because we’re not wintering cattle out anymore. Cause I remember where we used to winter cattle in odd field or two on poached ground. They would always be like when they’re in the spring and there’s not any more,

It was a sound you could hear. Um, during spring and summer across the county. And now you’re down to really just one or two pairs of curlew. If nothing is done, that will be it. We will lose those birds.

We still have the range of wildlife, but some of the more endangered species, their populations have continued to decline. There’s always the thought that maybe if we just turn the clock back and do things the way we used to, then perhaps they might have a different environment in which to live. Particularly when one looks at the river. I get very concerned about, what were discharged, not just in, in Chagford, but, um, every part of the UK what we discharge into our rivers. I’m not, not just talking about sewage. The lack of fish in the Teign now is it’s, it’s really quite scary, uh, for, for somewhere that is so wild and rural, you think there’d be a good fish population there. There isn’t

There’s no wild birds because there’s so many bloody feral cats and stoats and weasels crows and Magpies. No children now go Magpie nesting, go Crow nesting. Yesterday in Postbridge area, I came across two brace of foxes, all healthy thriving. So they wonder where the waders have gotten the, the ring ouzels and the red back shrikes and the pewits They are on a hiding to nothing because the predators are so become dominant.

Obviously there is climate change. I don’t think we would dispute on that.

Is the environment warming a bit? are the climates changing? Nature’s very adaptable isn’t it? So whatever is being thrown at, it responds to it. You know, who’s not to say that in next year, it’s not going to be cold. So yes, okay, a slight warming, but not significantly.

Climate change is probably happening. I believe that it is because I’ve been told that it is, but ecological change – I do think there’s been a huge loss of biodiversity. If you leave more and you go to other areas. So not very far, like Cheriton Fitzpaine or whatever, everybody blames it on the intensification of agriculture whereas I don’t think that’s applicable here, but there is still the decline.

I would say that the human race is adapting so quickly that there’s no need for us to worry. The only thing that’s going to really have a major effect on us will be the Gulf stream. If the Gulf stream shifts, then we’ll have to rethink things considerably I’m sure.

Personally speaking and speaking as a person of faith and building into my own faith tradition. It’s a moment of catastrophe. For many of us this is about relationship with what Christians would call the community of creation, of which we’re not just stewards but where we’re deeply interconnected. And so we’re making up, trying to make up, for the generations of the centuries of exploitation, not just of other people, but other species. I think that if you simply see it as threat, that I think we miss the moment of opportunity, which is actually a wake up call for people to come together.

We’re at a climate and ecological emergency. It’s not just conservationists saying that that’s what the government says. And that’s what the parish here in Chagford has declared them. So it is bad, but there are signs of hope and there are things we can do.

I’m very, very worried about it. I think it’s touch and go, actually, whether we’re going to make it.

we all have to take a little bit of accountability.

You know, we have to try to put things right. But it’s, you know, it’s a bit difficult isn’t it.

You have to move on and in a way I tend to feel now we’re not moving backwards. We’ve just evolved again. We’ve given up on the frozen foods and we’re back to eating good quality food hopefully. People will buy from Riverfood Organics for argument’s sake. They don’t stop and say, where did the bananas come from when they get them in their box. But it’s the thought that you buy local and you buy it’s better to buy from locally brad meat.

We’re looking at an increasingly changing climate, and increasingly volatile financial system. And I think within those parameters, I think communities really need to step up and look at weaning themselves off of dependence on long supply chains. So thats both national, regional, national, and international supply chains. I think food is quite key because it’s quite an easy one to see how in everyone’s kitchen, you can identify products that come from, you know, further afield in the UK and also internationally,

I mean, as a keen supporter myself of the various local commerces I’m a strong believer in what goes around, comes around. Because a lot of people frequent Luella’s coffe shop and Luella’s pizzas. Um, and in exactly the same way, we try very hard to spend locally. I used to go to Waitrose pretty much every day. I go once every two months now because we have everything we need on a doorstep, uh, from butchers to fruit and veg to fishmongers to pretty much everything is right here in Chagford. You don’t need to leave it. And add to that wonderful community that we’ve got here.

Last year, there was this food festival, which I gather was a huge success. It’s also good for the community that gets people together.

I think there’s more that we need to do as a town, particularly those of us that have a trade outlet into the centre of town to make sure that we coordinate our opening times because people only have to go, well, I can get these things locally today, but I still need this other thing I’m going to have to go to Oakhampton for that. So I might as well just get everything when I’m in Okey.

Chagford would really benefit from cherishing these smaller producers more and by having a weekly market, it would most definitely increase that. Potentially there needs to be more collaboration between individual farmers and making sure that we really put our best foot forward when it comes to the local produce in Chagford. I believe that plastic is still a big issue within Chagford. Even the shops where we’re trying to make an effort, we still have to use plastic. And I think if we can reduce that, then that would make a big change.

There are more people bringing in or reusing containers. At the beginning, I did one vegetarian meal in the freezer at the moment, usually try and keep six that I’m making, which is great because it’s expanding my repertoire. Certainly in the last five years, it’s become enough of a trend for me to want to change what’s happening in the shop for economic reasons. To an extent it’s a choice thing at this stage, and that is driven first and foremost by people’s pockets.

I think it’s far easier to be green. If you’ve got money and you can buy organic local produce and you can get an electric car and buy new air source heat pumps. If you’re in a low income, of course you want to go shop at pro mark where you might be getting budget food. It’s not necessarily easy being green.

The lungs of the world don’t mean nothing unless you got food in your belly and warm for your children, and that’s my opinion.

We have, a veggie box over there.I think it’s good value because it’s good food, but not everybody can make that choice. We have to ask why is that the case? What is so fundamentally broken about our systems, our food system, that, that veggie box over there is not affordable for everybody? Why is that?

Of course, if you buy organic produce, it’s more expensive than say some non-organic produce. But if there was more of an understanding about the seasons, what’s grown when and how to use those ingredients you actually can make things extraordinarily cheaply. And I think that that’s the piece that’s missing here is building a culture around what it means to eat locally and in season.

Yes, we’ve got a baker and we’ve got a butcher, but we are dependent on them both bringing their wares from somewhere else. Unlike say 40 years ago when you had two bakers and two butchers, both bakers baked on the premises, both butchers had their own meat slaughtered and kept it in. They would trade something slaughtered and used the meat all week to supply everybody, you know, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles as it were. And we’ve got the allotments and yes, the allotments are all fairly well occupied, but they’re not as productive as, I mean, I can remember when shall I say what we would have called the council house people because they were the ones, a lot of them that had allotments, they would have brought their wares down and sold it to the green grocer for him to sell on again, you know, it was, you did your own recycling and yes, we’ve got, ChagFarm and ChagFood. It does a good, they all good, but it’s a very different way of doing things than used to be

As an industry, we do all have to look for new ways to make farming work. It’s a very, very difficult industry, one to get into, but even once you’re in it to maintain these days with times changing so much. It’s all about well-managed grasslands, which I think we’re doing really well in Chagford. We are been pushed more and more as an industry to reduce the grazing of animals and to rewild and renature areas, but actually well managed grassland with thoughtful grazing can be a better way of capturing carbon and a more reliable way. And I think we need to keep moving in that direction as a unified collective in Chagford.

I think half the problem is now that sort of everybody has a nice romantic idea of nature, whereas it isn’t always like that. Mainly everything’s just trying to live and not die arn’t they. A lot of people that come to the national park don’t leave thit car. They just drive across. It looks nice. It looks pretty. I don’t think there’s necessarily understanding that it is as managed as it is because they don’t see many people, but every part of it is the way it is because it’s been farmed or mined.

And as a farmer, people get very upset when we cut the hedges and plough the land. I get the impression that are a lot of people who are kind of worried that their way of life is being attacked. The farmers around here nearly all livestock farmers, and I think they feel quite threatened. There is an aspect of my view on it which is quite defensive.

I think there’s precious little listening going on to be blunt, sometimes conservationists and people working in ecology are the worst for that because we are always absolutely right, because our job is about saving the world. What are the traditions and what are the skills that the farming community has to offer in an environment, in a climate ecological emergency. What is that because they do, they genuinely do, but equally they have to listen to us as well. The nature conservation community, also has a store of knowledge going back many, many decades and a store of expertise going back many, many decades that is useful in this situation.

We’d need to see a fairly significant increase in cattle and ponies on the moor, to control the millennia. We need to see swaling continue, um, at the right times, year, you know, it’s quite cold as in a cold fire. I mean, burning into the wind. It never it struggles to burn the fire because you’re not burning with the wind. So the wind isn’t fanning the flames you’re burning into the wind and it’s sort of, the ground is wet because we’ve had six months of rain.

Its actually a very effective way of managing invasive species like Western gorse and allowing a fresh growth of new grass to come through in the spirng. There’s a danger in dismissing those traditional land management techniques, as being an odds with climate change objectives or, you know, just being plain wrong. But at the same time, I think there is more that they, we could do to adapt our farming techniques, and support a more thriving, ecologically balanced landscape.

You know, you could do the classic experiment that’s been done, put a Mars bar on there and let the burn go over. And it doesn’t melt the Mars bar, yada yada, yada. That’s not the point that totally misses the point, um, of the, the damage that swaling does. If it’s done regularly in the same places. And if you have intensive swailing, you end up with peat that is no longer hydrologically functioning as it should do. You know, it’s the equivalent of putting carbon into the atmosphere from burning cole. Yes, you can use small bits of burning in other places, and you won’t have the same dramatic effects certainly on peat, but you still have to ask the question, why are you burning anything like that? Cause whatever you’re burning, you’re putting into the atmosphere. So, you know, can you cut and compost, you know what are the other things you can do?

I see parts of Dartmoor rewilding themselves as, as been, uh, less, uh, grazing. So for example, as you go up towards, uh, Batworthy on the right, there is lots of Gorse and Bracken but in between there there’s probably 30, 40 Rowan saplings all growing up and, and that’s happening all over the moor particularly up from the river valley, isn’t, it’s really beautiful to see that, but it does have to be a balance from my perspective on Dartmoor between us living and working, uh, up there in the farming as well as the rewilding, it can’t just be one or the other. We have to find a way to make it work for all.

We haven’t got straw growing out of our ears. We’ve been here for multi multi generations, and that must be acknowledged. We’re drifting apart, urban society and the rural society are just the division is increasing all the time. To me, the more, even Tarka the otter, the more you can instill in people, cause they’re there now, four generations away from the countryside and each generation. doesn’t have any connection. I wouldn’t say tooth and claw, but it’s bloody hard work. You do not have a day where you aren’t making decisions about how to proceed, whether it’s to do with the climate or the disease or pests or financial stability.

I think a lot of people who’ve moved in here don’t actually realise until they come here and live what it is like. They do tend to have deliveries or shop elsewhere, whereas yeah, we’ve lived here always and tend to do what we’ve always done. Really, you know, people who’ve moved in have got different ideas of what life is like in a small town.

If we are all headed for a climate change, we’ve all got to become very much more self-sufficient and be able to manage in our own small area. I don’t think we should go back to candles. Been there, done that. But I do think that we should be very aware all the time of what we’re using from a fossil fuel point of view and what we can do to change it. In my working life, I would do 30,000 miles a year, never go out to Devon. But, I look at it and I haven’t been in planes for the past 16 years. And since I’ve retired, I probably do 3,000 miles a year. So yes, I need a car because of the places I want to go. But if I can walk, I don’t drive and I never have done.

There’s a bit of hypocrisy around. Sometimes I go on to Exeter or I’ll go on the roads and every car has got an individual in it. And I think how dare they tell us to stop burning wood? When they are absolutely using world resources for their own means

The people that are going Oh yeah. In green, I’m do this. And I do that. I try with Prius, whatever, but say the car breaks down. They’ll hire a diesel car the next day and hire a car. They won’t get on their bike and walk walk to school, take their kids to school up the road..

They’ve just steamrolled in with their ideas from London and they have no idea about, so maybe say, oh, we’d like to, we’d like to talk to you. We’d like to learn about how Chagford has progressive the years. What part do you play? We want to find out your knowledge.

I think Chagford is very factional in all sorts of ways. I didn’t realise that until quite recently, but it seems to me that there are people who keep very much in their own way of thinking about things and don’t discuss things. And I think that was a great party. We need a lot of understanding and the issues are too big for people to get into corners and be cross with each other. We’ve got to work this, that together, cause it’s not going to happen otherwise.

Everyone here has come here at some point. And we have had waves and waves of people coming into Britain, UK, England, the neolithic farmers, you know, came here. The Saxons came here. So yes, there have been people here for generations and there are still waves of new people coming in. So I think we forget it’s quite easy to forget that.

Everybody’s angry nowadays, arn’t they and blaming everybody else. Nobody can let somebody live the way they want to and let somebody else live the way they won’t do that. I don’t know, everybody just seems angry and nobody can get on with what they were doing just quietly.

I think we’re, as a community, we’re being renewed as friends move in and as we become more outward looking, there’s a real moment of opportunity I think. It can be a strength, as long as we don’t just sit in our little tribal groups, which is very easy. Both new and old, both traditional and alternative.

I mean, it’s acknowledging that everyone is different. What is important to one person, certainly isn’t important to another person. I would like to think that we were coming up with more ways that the ordinary person who lives in one of the cottages and I haven’t got a garden that they know what they can be doing to try to help climate change.

We’ve had meetings in the village which have been really good. And if you got person chairing it, who’s diplomatic and careful and let people have their say and next and exchange ideas I think we could work something out quite well, which doesn’t need to be threatening.

I think there is a general mood shift for sure. And that wonderfully is being shunted from the younguns, the generation that’s coming up. Our Children are dragging us, shaming us, or bringing us into the fact that, oi, you screwed up. Now you help us make it right for not, not just you ask, but aren’t, but their children. We can’t control what’s happening with the big governmental things. The only thing you can do is take control of what you have your hands on. And if you do that, and a lot of people do that, that’s going to make some change.

I really hope that people don’t cut too many down trees and we try to keep them the safest possible during hard times.

I would like the grownups to be able, when the tree is chopped down, at least three more will be planted in its place.

Fields could be so amazing if they weren’t used for grazing and we rewilded them and we let nature take over. Farming, It needs to be done so that it isn’t destroying nature and destroying what’s already there and what’s been made by nature.

I hope the farmers and all the grownups, if they have enough space though, plant more seeds and in the fields and they’ll own more land to plant them in.

Grownups are lazy and I think they should just give it up and let the kids take over. kids are better they’re better at art and they’re better at everything than grownups.

Try your best. I know it’s not easy to drastically change everything because you can’t just say cut out plastic cut out, everything that will stop the world. Cause I know it’s not as simple as that, but please do think of us and think of the environment over other things.

I think we’re at a really interesting time, this sort of confluence of all sorts of fears and anxiety, but also hope for the future. But of course the scale of the challenge is vast. It takes your breath away.

I think the word emergency is always polarising anyway. macro economics is not something you’re going to turn around overnight, but I’m astonished at how much we’ve achieved in as a nation in the last 15 years or so. I think back to my childhood, when king cole was everything. Now we not only don’t produce, well produce very little coal in the UK. We hardly burn what we burn a tiny, fraction of what we used to, and even that will soon be extinguished. Those are astonishing changes. There’s much more we can do.

You have to be hopeful because if you’re not, that’s what we’re, we’re all looking towards the future. And we all know. Everything changes.

I like to think that human beings always do this. Always let’s wait to the last minute and then they do it all and they are extraordinary, clever, but we have got ourselves in quite a pickle.

I think we all have to change our perception or do our own a little bit. Of course me just creating less waste or doing my recycling every week. Isn’t necessarily going to change the planet. But unless we all kind of buy into it and get behind it, I don’t think it’s a possible change.

You just can’t go back really. You got to go forward. because there’s no good going back. You got to, you got to help yourself ready to go forward. You know what I mean? It’s, I mean, you have to. there you go.