Exmoor National Park was designated in recognition of the outstanding beauty, wildness and tranquillity of the moorlands which dominate its landscape. The moors and heaths are at the heart of the National Park; wide open areas, overlooking the whole of West Somerset, North Devon and the Bristol Channel coast. While they appear to be wild untamed landscapes, they are in fact the result of thousands of years of management by people and their grazing animals.
What are Moorlands ?
Moorland is the name given to areas usually dominated by shrubs such as Bell Heather, Ling and Gorse or various rough grasses and sedges. On Exmoor Moorlands include upland heath type habitats as well as the often wetter and more peaty mires. They usually occur on the poorer, peaty soils on the higher parts of Exmoor. Moorlands are usually unenclosed and offer great opportunities for recreation. Most of Exmoor's moorland is designated as "Access Land".
Moorland or heath landscape accounts for a quarter of the area of Exmoor National Park, 18,300 hectares of land lying between 305 m (1000 ft) and 519 m (1700 ft) above sea level. The central moorland lies largely within the parish of Exmoor, the former Royal Hunting Forest area, protected from Norman times until the 19th century. This is surrounded by a fringe of commons and coastal heaths each linked historically to the villages surrounding the moor.
Moorlands - an historic perspective
From a historic perspective the relatively low levels of ploughing over the moorlands has resulted in the survival of archaeological monuments from the earliest prehistoric periods. These form a rare and nationally significant resource. They include; Neolithic/early Bronze Age standing stones and stone settings, Bronze Age settlements (hut circles and enclosures), field systems, barrow groups and Iron Age hillforts and enclosures. More recently medieval farming has shaped the moorlands and there are many sites which illuminate the farming practices and economies at that time. More recently still the Parliamentary Inclosures and the Reclamation of The Royal Forest of Exmoor from the mid 19th century led to landscape scale changes. The last 200 years have seen a major reduction of the moorland area, as the heaths and bogs were converted to more agriculturally productive grassland and forestry.