Volunteering on Dartmoor National Park

All those locations...

I live in a wonderful part of Britain.  Even if I wasn't a photographer, it would still be wonderful.  Living in Devon I can access virtually any part of the South West Coast path in less than two hours, Dartmoor is on my doorstep, and Exmoor is a stones through away.  I can't really complain that I don't have anywhere to shoot.  In fact my two main enemies are time and the weather, but I suspect these are common complaints for most landscape photographers.

It's all too easy to take all these amazing locations for granted.  Aside from the very rare car park charge it doesn't cost me a penny to roam the coast and moors.  As if by magic there are convenient car parks, clear pathways, signposts, miles of litter free land and even the odd well placed café.

It's amazing, but it takes work

The problem is that it's not magic.  All our national parks and AONB's (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) require a significant amount of effort and money to maintain.  It's not just important to keep these places going for visitors, but a great many people live and work there, as well as it being home to a huge number of species of wildlife.  It’s all very complex and expensive, and very easy to take for granted.

Volunteering

For those of you who read my first blog post you will know that photography isn't my primary source of income.  I have a full time job in IT and when my employer told me that everyone in the company was entitled to take one day a year to go volunteering I jumped at the chance.  The only slight problem I had was where to volunteer.  There are no shortage of organisations looking for volunteers, but I wanted to do something that was related to the environment.  After all, as a landscape photographer I have a great passion for the outdoors and the environment around me.

I made the decision to volunteer for Dartmoor National Park after speaking to one of their rangers.  I was at a local village show and I spotted a Dartmoor National Park van.  It really stood out as it had a wonderful Adam Burton image on the side of it.  I got chatting to ranger Pete and soon we had exchanged contact details.  As a regular user of Dartmoor, volunteering for the National Park seemed the right choice. 

Getting Involved

So a few months later, on a beautiful autumn morning on Dartmoor, I met up with ranger Pete for my volunteering day.  I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but I was fairly sure I'd have to put some effort in.  Sure enough I was quickly put to work replacing a couple of old footpath signs.  This involved a bit of digging and though I wasn't used this kind of work it was very satisfying.  After all, I've followed a few of these signs before so I knew how useful they can be!  Besides, the work didn't seem so hard when you are working in such a wonderful location.

 Job done!  Replacing a footpath post.

Job done!  Replacing a footpath post.

Next up we visited the iron age Cranbrook Castle site where we checked to see if any more work was required to clear the ground.  Fortunately it didn't and I was rewarded with some stunning views of Dartmoor and beyond. 

 The Cranbrook Castle site.

The Cranbrook Castle site.

Next up I helped clear some low hanging branches from Rushford Steps.  Here I used a very interesting extendable branch cutting tool.  Got to love the power tools!!  Even though we only cleared a few branches it made a world of difference to the location.

 Clearing branches at Rushford Steps.

Clearing branches at Rushford Steps.

 Rushfords Steps are now a bit easier to cross.

Rushfords Steps are now a bit easier to cross.

Our next location was a woodland path just outside the village of Drewsteignton.  The ranger had received reports that the path was difficult to pass through so we got to work cutting, raking and sawing.  This was hard but satisfying working.  I could really see the difference our work was making. 

 Clearing a walkers path.

Clearing a walkers path.

It also highlighted the need for some lunch which we did by driving up a rough access road to get views of the stunning Teign valley at Fingle Bridge.  Never had lunch tasted so good or been eaten from somewhere so scenic.

 The Teign Valley - a place I love to photograph.

The Teign Valley - a place I love to photograph.

After lunch we completed the path clearance and headed off to clear some more overgrown bushes in the village of Drewsteignton and near Castle Drogo. 

 We drove some stunning autumn tracks.

We drove some stunning autumn tracks.

Towards the end of the day we decided to take a drive up to Fernworty Reservoir where my eagle eyed ranger spotted a stranded 4x4 up on the moor.  It was just as well we were in a Land Rover because the trip up to investigate the stranded vehicle certainly qualified as off road.  Fortunately no one was in the vehicle and the owner was quickly identified.

 High up on the moor.  No problems for the Defender.

High up on the moor.  No problems for the Defender.

As the end of the day approached and we headed back we did a bit of litter collection.  As you can see people seem to drop everything from slippers to crisp packets. 

 Leave nothing but foot prints!

Leave nothing but foot prints!

When Pete finally dropped me at my car again I was tired but happy.  What a day on Dartmoor!

What difference does a day make?

But can volunteering for one day really make any difference?  If only one person, one day a year volunteered then yes the difference would be small, but if lots of people donated a day each year all of that can add up to a big difference. 

In fact lots of people do volunteer on Dartmoor each year and I'm happy to say that now I'm one of them.  I've already decided that I will do the same again next year and if I can I might try and make it two days.  I have limited time but it is important for me to give something back to the area that I like to photograph the most.

Good for my photography?

While my day of volunteering might not impact my photography directly I do now have a better understanding of the land and the effort that goes into managing that land.  It's all very well taking lovely pictures of places like Dartmoor but without really understanding a location can you get the most out of it?  Perhaps a more detailed knowledge of Dartmoor will allow me to create images that are more personal or portray the land in a more intimate way.  Only time will tell.

Do you do volunteering?  Is it for your favourite photographic location?  Does volunteering directly or indirectly impact your photography?  Let me know in the comments.