Dartmoor 001

Dartmoor is justly famous for its prehistoric monuments; stone circles, burial cairns, hut circles and stone rows are part of the prehistoric heritage that make up the moor.

An interesting article in the September/October British Archaeology called ‘Dartmoor’s Vanishing Archaeology’ and written by Tom Greeves highlights the problem that occurs when animal grazing is drastically reduced on the moors  due to several factors such as farmers leaving the land, official policy drawn up by DEFRA and Natural England with a confusing range of terms and conditions that bind the upland farmers under the Agricultural Policy. Heather is seen as the natural flora of the moors by the powers that be, but with it comes gorse as well and archaeological monuments start to disappear under all this growth.

Stone rows, of which there are 80 examples, as well as cairns and stone circles become lost in this thick vegetation and the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs in the article give a pretty stark message. The Brisworthy stone circle is one such site highlighted, but it is the small stones that make up the long stone rows that soon become invisible.

Tom Greeves argues rightly that Dartmoor has been farmed since the sixth millennium BC and that the cultural tradition of farming the moors with sheep, cattle and horses should not be lost to a perceived present cultural whim, which dictates what is natural in the landscape, and that though wild and open in appearance it has been farmed to some degree over the centuries. He also raise an interesting point that the protection of our scheduled ancient monuments which is site specific fails to take into account the wider landscape, something that Heritage Action has long spoken out about.

An interesting book on the subject of the Bronze Age Dartmoor Reaves (ruined walls) first published in 1988  gives a detailed examination of  Dartmoor’s large scale, planned, prehistoric landscapes  and which has now been republished with an extra two chapters.

Andrew Fleming – The Dartmoor Reaves; Investigating Prehistoric Land Divisions. ISBN 9781905119158  April 2008