More of Dartmoor’s fascinating archaeological treasures, including one of the largest hut circle in the national park, have been revealed thanks to conservation efforts.

Sticklepath and Okehampton Conservation Group (StOC) have been working hard to clear and remove bracken from Throwleigh and South Tawton commons, both areas of national significance and designated as Premier Archaeological Landscapes.

Their efforts, coupled with good grazing practices, have helped uncover more of Dartmoor’s rich cultural history spanning Bronze Age stone circles, Medieval pillow mounds and ancient field systems.

Throwleigh Common is home to an extensive prehistoric settlement and ‘reaves’ - a Dartmoor term for field boundaries which formed extensive systems marking out fields and enclosed settlements during the Bronze Age.

Around 25 hut circles are now much more visible in the landscape, along with their associated field boundaries (reaves).

Along the northern slopes of Cosdon Beacon on South Tawton Common, bracken has been cleared to reveal more prehistoric hut circles and cairns as well as pillow mounds; structures built from the medieval period onwards and used for rabbit farming.

Dartmoor is internationally renowned as a rich cultural landscape with evidence of thousands of years of human interaction, the traces of which are still seen today. Both areas have been affected by blanket vegetation cover, especially bracken and gorse. This puts pressure on the protected monuments and leaves them at risk of decline.

Dartmoor National Park Authority and Historic England helped develop, fund and support the conservation projects with the approval of Natural England. StOC volunteers carried out the work supported by DNPA archaeologist Andy Crabb and Ranger Ian Brooker.

By supporting collective efforts to conserve and protect the landscape, these wonderful ancient monuments can be enjoyed for many more years to come.

Good grazing plays crucial part

A crucial part in the success of the works is due to the winter grazing provided by hardy cattle on Throwleigh Common. The cattle help disturb and break up the dead bracken ‘thatch’ that covers the ground in the winter. This helps weaken the plant further, in addition to the summer cutting, and also clears ground to allow a more diverse range of species to reestablish themselves.

These joint efforts mean that Dartmoor’s rich cultural heritage is conserved and enhanced, protected monuments are prevented from becoming at risk of decline and people can see more of the human history that makes Dartmoor so special.

Archaeologist Andy Crabb said: ‘It is really good to see these sites opened up for lots of reasons. It helps protect the cultural heritage for which Dartmoor is famed for, enables people to explore these sites for themselves and it plays a crucial role in nature enhancement.

‘By clearing invasive vegetation, both through removal and careful management of animals which graze the commons, it helps encourage habitat and species diversity. Both elements weaken bracken, so it doesn’t grow back so vigorously; that then improves the grass sward, and this is good for Dartmoor’s flora and fauna.’

StOC’s Mike Watson added: ‘The group has really enjoyed working with Ian and Andy on these projects. It means a lot to us to be able help with this work on such important sites as we all love Dartmoor.’

StOC have focused their conservation efforts in these areas for nearly three years now, cutting and clearing bracken. Their work has vastly improved the landscape. Conservation work is ongoing with more cuts planned over the summer and beyond.