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News from the hearth


This past winter the hard-working Moor Barton volunteers have tackled an area affectionately known as 'Gorse Alley'.

Gorse is a wonderful plant, providing cover for mammals and nest sites for birds whilst the yellow flowers add a brightness at all times of the year. It has a thirst for life and will expand and expand to the exclusion of other trees and plants. It can be seen as ‘invasive’ but it is just good at what it does!

Underneath and amongst the gorse covering the hillside rising above Gorse Alley are 1000s of planted native broadleaf trees. These trees have been so shaded out by the gorse that they are unable to thrive. Plus, the denseness of the gorse has made it a hard and prickly task when trying to remove the multitude of tree guards that are a legacy from the planting, almost a decade ago. A lot of the gorse had grown leggy and tall with spindly crowns and was not providing the nesting opportunities as a shrubbier gorse bush would.

As part of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme with Natural England we were granted funding to clear back the gorse - 4 acres in all! Luckily for us the intrepid Angus cajoled, enthused and lead, by brush cutting example, over many weekends. Volunteers aged from 11 years old upwards including Angus's mum and dad helped us to complete the mammoth task of fulfilling our Stewardship obligations. Huge thank you to everyone who came and helped.


Rather than burning or flailing with a tractor we cut it by hand then created big brash piles that were heaved into place by all the wonderful helpers. These brash piles provide an element of habitat structure at Moor Barton, allowing numerous nesting opportunities for the many bird species – Blackcap, Wren, Robin and Blackbird to name a few. The piles will also provide space for mammals to rest, reptiles to bask and add an element of protection to the planted trees from the many deer that call Moor Barton their home. It seems extreme but this work will let the planted trees get away and grow taller for a few years before it grows back into a wonderful understorey that will provide more nesting habitat. In the future, Dartmoor ponies will nibble bits back and we humans can coppice it on a rotation acting as another ecosystem engineers. While working we created more open conditions, scuffing the ground with our feet as we worked. Next year the ground should be a riot of pink and purple foxgloves to compliment the yellow of the gorse and it will be fascinating to see what other plants grow up.


All the volunteers came away happy, scratched, itching from dead gorse needles, and glowing with a knowledge and satisfaction from being a participant in a rich and complex landscape.

Updated: Feb 23

After an absence of perhaps as much as a thousand years, beavers are back on Dartmoor! At the beginning of December we released a mama beaver, her eldest daughter and two younger kits into their specially made six acre enclosure at Moor Barton Wilding.

The family, who have come from Scotland where there are now hundreds of beavers, have quickly settled into their new home and have been as 'busy as beavers'! In just a few short weeks the stretch of the Trenchford Stream which runs through their enclosure has been utterly transformed. Beavers are shy creatures who like to be hidden in the water as much as possible. Rather than taking their food (the shrubs and small trees surrounding the stream) to the water, they try to take the water to their food.

They do this by damming the stream to slow and spread the flow of the water, effectively creating a series of pools and reuniting the water course with its flood plain, rather than a canalised stream rushing as fast as possible to its destination.

Stream before beavers

And after...

In this newly created wetland, which feels reminiscent of a Canadian landscape, life is already flourishing. The still and slow moving pools are havens for insects and amphibians and these, in turn, draw more birds and mammals to the area. Just three weeks after the beavers arrived we saw our first ever snipe at Moor Barton. We're looking forward to the summer when the area will be humming with insects, dragonflies and butterflies.

At one time, a third of the UK would have been 'beaver engineered'. Standing inside the beaver enclosure at Moor Barton Wilding provides an opportunity to experience what our landscape would have been like all those years ago - and gives a sense of hope around what it may be like once again.

At the moment we are giving our beaver friends some time to settle in, however we will be running beaver education and observation sessions later in the year. Please subscribe to our mailing list to receive updates.

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