Common Wood part 1
On 19 October 2011 I bought a common.
I hadn’t expected to become a landowner, but when Common Wood, near Horndon on the western side of the Dartmoor National Park, came on the market, along with other parcels of land owned by South West Water, I was anxious that it should remain in safe hands.
I have known Common Wood for nearly 50 years (not that I knew its name). I first visited Hillbridge Farm at Peter Tavy in 1965 for riding holidays – pure magic for a ten year old – and returned year after year, falling in love with the moor, the farm and the Tavy valley. Hillbridge is unchanged, thanks to Marion Saunders who, having lived and worked there for 30 years, inherited the farm from Dee Ivey when she died 11 years ago. I visit regularly, and must have walked through Common Wood countless times over the last half century.
Marion went to the auction to bid for me. I was astounded and overjoyed when she rang me to say that the 17-acre Common Wood was mine.
Well mine nominally – it’s really for everyone. It is registered common land, so graziers have rights there. It comes under the aegis of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 which gives the public the right to walk and ride over every bit of it. That is not practical because of the steep terrain and dense vegetation, but there is a path-cum-scramble by the river, and public footpath, Mary Tavy 22, along the leat which follows the contour and bisects the land.
So the best way to visit Common Wood is either to follow the River Tavy, which is the southern boundary, or the leat. If you start at Horndon Clam, the bridge over the Tavy at GR SX 523 795, and follow the river you are on the land at once. If you enter by the leat path a little way up the hill you reach Common Wood after crossing three fields.
Much of the land is a steep slope of ancient mixed woodland, such as oak and hazel with a rich covering of lichens.
In the north-eastern part of the site there is a substantial, damp open area with patches of willow carr.
If you cross the leat by the granite slab pictured below you climb up onto open ground.
From there you can enjoy wonderful views across the Tavy valley to Cudlipptown Down on the flank of White Tor, or you can look upstream to Baggator and Standon Hill.
The land has been included in the higher-level stewardship, thanks to the persistence of the Mary Tavy Commoners’ Association.
My friend Hilary Marshall is carrying out a botanical survey for me, updating the survey undertaken for the Dartmoor National Park Authority in 1995 (which recorded total species 159, key species 7). Jenny Plackett from Butterfly Conservation is advising on butterflies as it’s a potentially good habitat for Marsh Fritillaries, Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. The Dartmoor Preservation Association volunteers worked there in the pouring rain in November to improve the habitat for butterflies.
It is a fascinating site for botanists, ornithologists, lepidopterists, ecologists, archaeologists and historians and a lovely peaceful place to walk.
More news and information will follow in future blogs. You can see more photos here.