There’s a lot going on at East Dartmoor NNR and the Bovey Valley Woods. It’s a fantastic area for wildlife, quiet enjoyment and a place for people to learn about and care for the wildlife we have. We’ve been undertaking a project as part of Moor than meets the eye to find ways to get people more involved in the life of the reserve. This has been hugely successful. In particular volunteers have helped us find out more about the secretive Barbastelle bat, some people have been looking into lichens in the valley, whilst others monitor the otters. There is even a band of dedicated folk who are exploring the history of the valley. Whilst this work is very important we recognise that not everyone can get involved in it so to compliment this we have been running a programme of educational activities aimed at local schools and a programme of events aimed at families and young people. We hope that if we can inspire these youngsters to be interested in wildlife that some of them may go on to be the naturalists of the future.
We have recognised that to spread this message further we need to engage people who might not even visit the reserve.
With this in mind we have just run an early autumn project called the River of Life which worked with local schools to encourage young people to think about the wildlife of the Bovey Valley and to value it. The project culminated in a Lantern Festival at Parke alongside the River Bovey with over 500 people attending.
Working with our partners at National Trust and Bovey Town Council we planned an evening event to atmospherically light up the woods in a magical way with artwork and lanterns created by local children. In all we ran 8 full day schools workshops creating fish lanterns to swim in our River of Life, shadow lanterns with inspiring poems written by the children and shadow pictures depicting wildlife in the valley. We also ran a public workshop at the Woodland centre in Yarner Wood which was really well attended.
In the run up to the day of the event, which was the culmination of 6 weeks of hard work, we nervously checked the weather forecast. Over that last week the forecast changed on a daily basis sometimes suggesting we would be okay at others times predicting a complete wash out. As the day got closer, though, the forecast settled down predicting a dry start to the day, a wet afternoon and light showers for the evening. Not the best news but good enough to allow us to proceed with the event.
On the day the initial set up went well, but the weather came in wet and heavy for most of the afternoon as the forecasters had said. Not put off our dedicated volunteers turned up to help us set up despite the heavy rain so we retreated to the comfort of the Home Farm Café to do our event briefing. By the time we had finished going through the unglamorous but necessary procedures for dealing with emergencies or lost children the skies were clearing and the sun was coming out. This was perfect timing allowing us to put out the hundreds of jam jars, tealights and shadow lanterns needed for the event and get everything in place before it went dark.
At around 6.30pm people began to arrive in Mill Marsh Park for a 7pm start. We began to collect tickets and hand out lanterns which had been made at the schools. (To help us manage the numbers participation in the event was by ticket only.) Local musicians entertained us as we gathered, waiting for it go dark. Interspersed amongst the fish lanterns were giant barbastelle bats, owls, stars and moons.
And then it was time to set off. Led by these giant lanterns the group of over 500 people snaked its way in a river of light alongside the River Bovey making its way upstream to Parke. Guiding the way were streams of jam jar tealights either side of the route which took us to a tree fringed field alongside the river where we had created our garden of light. There, people could while away their evening listening to storytelling or watching the incredible shadow puppets. MED theatre performed part of their play about the last wolf on Dartmoor whilst the local choir created beautiful harmonies that floated on the air.
All too soon the evening drew to its finale. Everyone came together around a fire picture depicting the wildlife of the river and the valley which was lit after a few words explaining the thinking behind the event.
As the picture burned down it was wonderful to look up and see the full moon coming out from behind a ribbon of cloud to cast its silvery glow over us all bringing to an end a magical evening.
And then as the last of our visitors departed our band of volunteers and staff sprung into action to clear away the event so that by 10 o’clock you would never have known that we had been there!
A massive thank you to all those people who came along and supported this event. We hope to see you on the reserve soon whether that is as part of an event, on a school project, as a volunteer or simply enjoying a quiet walk.
And of course a massive thank you to all those people who gave up their Saturday to help us put on such a wonderful event.