Raising the spirit of Old Crockern

Photo by Lewis Winks

On Saturday September 30, around 300 people gathered at Princetown to show their passion for creating a wilder Dartmoor. 

The “March for Wild Dartmoor” was organised by Wildcard, a growing grassroots movement of ordinary people, campaigners and experts who want to put pressure on the country’s biggest landowners to commit to ambitious rewilding projects as a matter of urgency. 

Their current focus is on the royal family – hence the interest in Dartmoor, where Prince William, Duke of Cornwall, owns a significant part of the National Park – the historical “Royal Forest” – which encompasses a very substantial portion of the higher ground on the moor, and much that is iconic about this well known landscape. 

The gauntlet made The Lost Giant Makers. by Photo by Clare

A lively crowd gathered at 10am outside the Dartmoor Visitor Centre, a building which includes the Duchy of Cornwall Offices, where the gauntlet was flung down to Prince William to step up to the plate for nature on Dartmoor. Wildcard’s Emma Smart read out the campaign group’s demands – a call to Prince William to publicly commit to: 

  1. Restore the rainforest – regenerate Dartmoor’s temperate rainforests and other broadleaved woodland;
  2. restore the bogs & heaths – restore and maintain Dartmoor’s internationally important blanket bogs, valley mires and heaths;
  3. put life & colour back in the fields – restore Dartmoor’s meadows;
  4. bring back wild animals – reintroduce keystone species wherever possible (such as beavers, wildcats, and pine martens) and restore and increase the populations of key species (such as curlew and high brown fritillaries);
  5. pay farmers to produce nature as well as food – support farmers and other land managers on Dartmoor to restore the natural environment as well as continuing to raise stock and produce food, and to leave the National Park in a better condition than before.

After this, the crowd were entertained by singer-songwriter and Grand Bard of Exeter, Kimwei (vocals/guitar) with radical folk musicians Christopher Dance (vocals/fiddle) and Lisa Rowe (vocals/fiddle) before setting off across the moor, led by drums and music. 

Christopher, Kimwei and Lisa. Photo by Lewis Winks

The destination was South Hessary Tor, where people gathered between the granite for speeches, story and dance. Storyteller Lisa Schneidau told the story of Old Crockern who, since the Right to Roam protests on the moor earlier in the year, has come to represent something of the spirit of Dartmoor. The story itself, written by Sabine Baring-Gould in the 1890s, is very much a parable about the exploitation of the land and the consequences of pushing beyond sustainable limits. 

I then gave a short speech to highlight the importance of people coming together to be a be a voice for nature: 

“to show that we care.  And not just once, we will need to keep doing this. And growing our numbers. And by this … collectively speak truth to power and let them see our fierce love of this land, our home. Together we can make a difference.” 

Photo by Lewis Winks

In the spirit of early 20th century radical Emma Goldman’s quote ““If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution”, the crowd were then entertained by MAYDAY Morris whose aim is to “bring energy to protest and bear witness to loss, injustice, and inequality using a medium that is the epitome of English tradition.”  The energy was palpable – the new law is folklore! 

Then it was back to Princetown, accompanied by a spectacularly and improbably large gauntlet which was symbolically laid down in front of the Duchy Offices.

“Make it Wild, or Make it Ours”’ proclaimed banners – a challenge indeed. 

This was followed by a speech from Guy Shrubsole calling on the Duchy to do more for Dartmoor’s precious temperate rainforests, a cause he has eloquently and successfully championed through his Wainwright Award-winning book “Lost Rainforests of Britain”. 

Emma Eberhardt from Youth Flame followed Guy, speaking for the Landworkers Alliance about the importance of sustainable and regenerative farming, and support for this sort of farming from the Duchy. This was a key message, and one that is included in the five Wildcard demands. 

Lisa Schneidau then powerfully told the story of “The King Under the Hill”, the crowd gripped by the powerful image of the once and future king, Arthur, sleeping beneath our land. Is it time for his return? Do we need new leadership?  Do we need to ring the bell! 

MAYDAY Morris; photo by Louisa

Alt-folk artist Holly Ebony then led the crowd in singing before MAYDAY Morris finished off the day on a high, culminating in a collective dance. 

Huge thanks and respect to the team at Wildcard who worked long hours to make this march happen. Nature needs a voice now more than ever, and a collective call from us to restore nature in this wounded land. We need more of this, much more. 

This is just the start.