Rewilding Dartmoor

Is Rewilding the Future for Dartmoor? Caya Edwards from The Dartmoor Society explore the issues and arguments here. You can learn more at a debate on the subject on 29th October.

George Monbiot started the discussion in relation to Dartmoor, and ruffled a few feathers, when he spoke to the National Parks Conference last October, ‘Time to go Wild’, and since then many local thinkers have started to look at whether a degree of ‘Rewilding’ would be a good thing for Dartmoor.


Many people would say ‘isn’t Dartmoor pretty wild anyway?’  Dartmoor’s high moorland and forested foothills appear to be ‘untamed’ by human hands; some might wonder how it could possibly be more wild.  It is in fact a highly managed landscape where farming and forestry as well as visitors and local communities compete for space with plant and animal life.

The term ‘Rewilding’ has become more widely used over recent years by those who wish to see ecological restoration on a large scale and to enable people to feel ‘connected’ with nature. Some advocate the introduction of new species or reintroducing species that have been lost.  As we become more conscious of habitats and wildlife that struggle to survive, we are naturally drawn to ideas that seem to offer a solution to these problems.

For those who strongly oppose the idea of rewilding, Dartmoor’s rich tapestry of fields and hedgebanks, open moorland and forested hills is something to be cherished and preserved.  They are against anything that may see farmland sacrificed, and livelihoods threatened for benefits that are uncertain and little understood.  


Speaker Anne Willcocks, is a Dartmoor Farmer and Commoner, having the centuries old right to graze stock on the Dartmoor commons.  She will set out her perspective in a forthright account of exactly what farmers are up against. The clue is in the title of her talk ‘Why bother?’! Farming families have created the landscape we see today, yet ever changing ideas from governing bodies about how Dartmoor is best managed may ignore this deep rooted connection between farmer, wildlife and the wider landscape, and knowledge built up over generations.

Some of the speakers in the debate will argue that Dartmoor’s landscape would be improved for wildlife and people by a degree of environmental change.  Robert Cook, lecturer in Education for Sustainability at Plymouth University considers the meaning of the term “re-wilding”, and the ways that he feels it should be interpreted.  He promotes what he terms ‘ecological restoration’ for long term “sustainability”.  

Miles King, Environmentalist and founder of the charity ‘People Need Nature’ will develop his arguments by looking at the practical details and implications of the environmental changes that could result from rewilding.

Tom Greeves, will look at the cultural aspects of the Rewilding debate. Humans have been exploiting Dartmoor’s resources, and living on the land for over 8000 years.  How would the remains of past human activity be managed?  Would archaeological remains disappear under trees and scrubland?

Dartmoor’s wide open spaces are enjoyed by local people and visitors.  Tourism is a large part of Dartmoor’s economy, so would rewilding make people feel closer to nature or would it be a barrier to their enjoyment of the moor?


All these questions will be tackled by speakers well qualified to talk on this subject as all work on or near Dartmoor. Chairing the debate is Matthew Kelly who discusses the idea of Rewilding in his book Quartz and Feldspar: Dartmoor – A British Landscape in Modern Times (2015). Tracing management strategies and attitudes towards Dartmoor over the past 150 years, rewilding is part of an evolving debate about Dartmoor and how it can flourish, yet also to accommodate people, industry, farming and wildlife.

This day long event will be held on Saturday 29th October at Meldon Village Hall, near Okehampton, but please book before 21st October. The cost for non members is £20 and this includes Lunch and refreshments. For more information and to book online visit

The Dartmoor Society Annual Debate to be held at Meldon Village Hall, near Okehampton, on Saturday 29th October 2016.  The Dartmoor Society is a charity that is for anyone who is inspired by Dartmoor. Download the flyer here




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