CONSERVATION ISSUES IN THE VALLEY OF ROCKS

1.Wringcliffe Bay: two perspectives

The Council is keen to reopen access to Wringcliffe beach. (above left) This is a very steep cliff path, which will be used only by a few tourists (cf. Sillery Sands). Reconstruction of the collapsed lower path will be difficult, and expensive, as will maintenance: - the path is very narrow will probably require strimming; at present even goats have walk single file! Is this expense justified? Whilst the upper coastal path is poorly serviced and used by more people!

From about October to June this area provides a little surface fresh water from springs for wildlife of the area. The footpath crosses these surface springs. If this path is to be utilized it would seem desirable to construct a traditional gravity fed water trough to attempt to store water for wildlife and stock as water may be lost, to some extent, through path erosion.


Trough nr. Roman Fort 
Woody Bay to Hunters Inn

Such a development may well help to attract stock – Exmoor Ponies to the area for drinking water for many months of the year, offsetting the use of water in the area of the toilets, which is likely to attract undesired tourist feeding of the animals.

The footpath passes through one of the less steep areas of heath, mostly Ling (Calluna) that has been invaded by Bracken (Pteridium). The approximate position of the springs is indicated by the arrow.

As can be seen, attracting stock to this location could promote rehabilitation of the natural heath-land, which still exists under the Bracken, a broader strimming clearing area and perhaps volunteer clearing of the major area should lead to a rapid rehabilitation of the Ling in this sector and might help to evaluate future action on the steeper slopes (see below).

Analysis of a complete series of historical postcards in the collection of Mr. T. Bartlett of Berrynabour indicates that many of the steeper areas of the Valley from the toilets to opposite the Tea Rooms were more open with visible surface rocks with Bracken concentrated from Devil’s Cheese Ring to the end North Walk at the bottom of Castle Rock. It is probable that these areas had heath vegetation that has been invaded by Bracken.

Why not first consolidate projects in V.o.R. and Hollerday Hill before starting a new project?

2. Tourist usage & impact analysis in the Valley of Rocks

Despite statements of the Town Clerk that the Council has widely consulted about issues of the Valley, there seems to be neither an analysis of the problems of those locally affected (stakeholders)-this could be a task of V.o.R. Committee, nor a tourist impact analysis. In reality there seems to be no evaluation of the past and recent existing developments, and yet the Council proposes to spend further money on Wringcliffe Bay whilst ongoing projects lack maintenance and evaluation. How can one successfully lobby for funds without an analysis of current problems?

So a short review of the key areas and possible problems:

Hollerday Hill.

There are good interpretation panels situated at the Town Hall, Site of Hollerday House and Iron Age Fort.

The paths are well maintained; the upper coastal path is spectacular, particularly during August and holiday period. It is utilized by many local people and possibly under-utilised by tourists as day tourists mainly walk along the North Walk. Better signposting by the Town Hall might help.

 

The views are spectacular, but the seats, simple planks are rotting away! Is this unsustainable development or can something be done about this. In my opinion, access to the Iron Age fort is easiest via the route to the summit along the row of memorial seats, but then the display board needs to be relocated or signposts modified to indicate an interpretation panel on the other side, which cannot be seen as it is hidden behind a wall. The present route via the old tennis courts is not a logical primary access route and should be a secondary access route.

Castle Rock

This has been an attraction since Victorian times. Surprisingly tourist impact to the summit appears to have lessened in present times. Old photos and postcards show much more path erosion than at present. People will always climb up and erosion seems to be at an acceptable level. Climbing schedules and regulations are under the control of the Town Clerk. Usually climbing groups are not a problem.

Ragged Jack.

The tourist impact is very serious, particularly affecting the scree slopes due to compaction and rock disturbance. Also climbing along the summit causes wildlife disturbance. It is surprising but I have seen both adults and children step out of their car and directly walk up the scree towards the summit without reading the display board or even buying a parking ticket. This seems to be a syndrome of the quick stop tourist who rapidly move on. Those with more time tend to walk around and then climb Castle Rock.

The major scree access areas are marked by red arrows. Part of the problem lies in the design of the car park and the total lack of footpath connection to the tarmac path of North Walk. Hence, there is a path along the base of the scree, (yellow line) or a very irregular path at the side of the road

Providing a new connecting path from the car park to North Walk Coastal Path would be in the interests of both tourists and conservation. Here a new interpretation panel, similar to that at the site of Hollerday House, displaying a profile of the two sides of the valley and other information, together with the parking meter at the same site is required. This would draw attention away from the scree slopes A buffer planting of Blackthorn/Sloe (Prunus spinosa), Gorse (Ulex spp.) and Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), all of which are growing naturally at the base of the scree (see above left) could, in the long term, provide a natural barrier to prevent such behaviour.

 

 

This could be combined with "go back" signs, perhaps a kid goat picture and "do not kill me – I need my mother" or some such message.

The other access route, at the summit of the side path to Poet’s Corner, behind Cricket Pavilion could also be similarly planted.

This would require the relocation of the seat at this point (above right).

It seems to me that the walking tourists from North Walk join with car park visitors and Hollerday Hill rambling tourists at a point below Castle Rock. This would be my proposed end point of the link between the car park/refreshments and the merging tourist routes. Here I would also propose a double information panel, facing the valley a panel on the theories of origin see  booklet "Valley of Rocks", and Castle Rock, the other side the sea bird colonies. This would give a complete spectrum of information, which should be seen by 95% of visitors. I think that the panel on the Iron Age Fort would be seen by 5 % of visitors, Holler day House by c. 20% of visitors. Unfortunately there is no evaluation of the success of these expensive panels. Why is this so?

There seems to be no concept of zoning within the Valley and Ragged Jack would seem to be a logical area to attempt to restrict the access. It is one of the nursery areas of the female goats with kids and also the ridges are used by birds of prey and ravens. This area is in the centre of tourist usage and impact

The redesign of the car park area and protection of Rugged Jack will be critical to conservation efforts in the current millennium. It is very important to get it right in the current efforts.

Dr. Colin E. Ridsdale