On Barbara MacDonald’s birthday, 28 August, each year, I like to remember her. She was a special friend, a feisty fighter with flaming red hair, the kindest heart, a great sense of humour and a most forthright manner. She died in 2002, aged 90, and she is not forgotten. You can read about her here.
When it came to a Dartmoor battle, she was always there. She appeared at countless public inquiries, presenting forceful, lucid evidence. I saw her function at the Sharp inquiry into military training in 1975, the Roadford reservoir inquiry in 1978 and the Okehampton bypass inquiry in 1979, to name a few of the big ones, but she was active long before I came on the scene, fighting the Meldon reservoir, china clay expansion and much else.
The first inquiry we did together was the 1975 public inquiry, when Baroness Sharp presided over what proved to be a farcical investigation into military training in the Dartmoor National Park. I still have Bar’s proof of evidence, submitted as an individual as she was no longer an officer of the Dartmoor livestock Protection Society (which she founded in 1963). Unlike the rest of the objectors she focused on the agricultural aspect of military training on Dartmoor, using different and useful arguments.
Bar was a farmer, having moved to Sanduck, near Lustleigh, in 1951 where her farming included dairy, sheep, pigs, beef cows with single-sucked calves and poultry.
Her evidence was that, while most of Dartmoor was overstocked, the military-training lands were under-grazed (much more of Dartmoor is under-grazed now); the frequent disturbance of livestock, which had to be moved in and out of the training areas for firing, was detrimental to their welfare (Dartmoor sheep are leered to a particular area); and the noise of heavy artillery and aircraft, and the frequent parachute flares, were stressful to animals. It was also shocking that the taxpayer should fund military training itself, the subsidies to hill farmers, and the compensation to commoners for loss of food production due to that military training.
She concluded: I submit that there is no case for the continued use of any part of Dartmoor by the Armed Services for any other than adventure and fitness/survival training and that Dartmoor’s value as a hill-farming area and as an essential haven from modern noise and pollution is at risk. Never more so than now must we preserve our wild areas in peace and quiet, if we wish our descendants to inherit a country worth defending.
There are appendices with more evidence. It was a powerful exposition.
But we all knew it was a foregone conclusion, that the military would continue to batter Dartmoor and the inquiry would not put an end to it. Indeed, with typical directness, Bar told Baroness Sharp that ‘the inquiry report could easily have been written without any need for the inquiry’. Baroness Sharp was angry, but in many respects Bar was spot on—as she so often was.