10-How has the management of change at Porlock Marsh been affected by its location within the protected landscape of Exmoor National Park?

Along with all other National Parks in England and Wales the aims and purposes of Exmoor National Park were laid out in the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
  • Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public

When National Park Authorities carry out these two purposes they also have the duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Parks.

The current Exmoor National Park Partnership Plan 2012-2017 identifies twelve priorities:

  • Protect and manage the special character of Exmoor’s unique landscapes
  • Maintain the open character of moorland and the range of public benefits that moorland landscapes deliver
  • Maintain in good condition, extend and connect Exmoor’s important wildlife habitats and the species they support
  • Engage people in understanding, protecting and managing Exmoor’s cultural heritage and historic environment
  • Maintain and improve the quality of Exmoor’s natural resources
  • Promote Exmoor National Park as a special destination and develop the Exmoor brand
  • Maintain high quality rights of way, services and facilities to enable people to explore and experience the special qualities of the National Park
  • Inform, inspire and engage people about Exmoor’s special qualities
  • Support community led initiatives that help to meet local needs
  • Help businesses to be more sustainable, support entrepreneurship and improve economic prospects for young people living and working on Exmoor
  • Help farmers, foresters, land managers and gamekeepers to produce food, timber and other produce while improving environmental quality and providing other public benefits
  • Make progress towards becoming a carbon neutral National Park.

Consolidate Your Thinking

Review the aims and priorities above.  To what extent do you feel Exmoor National Park’s support for the non-interventionist management of change at Porlock Bay is in line with its statutory purposes and socio-economic duty and the partnership plan priorities?  Do you feel there are any purposes/priorities which may not have figured so importantly as others in its decision making process?  Are there conflicts between achieving the purposes/priorities?  Why do you think this might be?  The reference to the Sandford Principle here  may support your thinking here.

Porlock Marsh Vision Project

Since the breach in the shingle ridge in 1996, Porlock Marsh has changed dramatically. The approach has been to let nature “do its thing” but this has raised a number of questions and potential opportunities to ensure that the marsh remains a key and unique asset to local communities and businesses, and Exmoor National Park as a whole.

The approach of letting nature take its course was not supported by everyone at the time, and led to a split in the local community with some embracing the change but others feeling a sense of loss for what was a much loved asset. As a result of a feeling that the community had, in part, turned its back on the marsh, Porlock Parish Council initiated a project to develop a long term Vision for the marsh and a plan for its development, management and use. A crucial element of the project was to bring the two main landowners – the National Trust and Porlock Manor Estate – together to help develop and agree the Vision, supported by a steering group including the Parish Council, Exmoor National Park Authority and Natural England. This involved significant research, engagement and consultation with key landowners, local farmers and agencies, local residents, businesses, and tourism providers. Two workshops were also held to look at specific issues – one relating to wildlife; and the other looking at recreation and tourism. The views of visitors and local residents were gathered through a questionnaire.

A Porlock Marsh Vision document was developed reflecting the issues facing the future management of the marsh, its landscape character, wildlife, and heritage. The main theme of the Vision continues the approach of working with the natural processes that are occurring following the breach. It was agreed that there should be minimum intervention, but to take limited steps where these facilitate and support its natural development or protect its heritage. It looks at opportunities for improving access and visitor facilities, providing more information about what to see and do, and options for how the marsh is managed in future.

Following development of the Vision, funding was secured through the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund, with match funding from Porlock Parish Council, National Trust and the South West Coast Path Association to deliver some of the actions identified. This was divided into two phases, recognising that some of the actions can be progressed quickly, whilst others will require longer to deliver and require further surveys and consultation. Whilst not all of the options set out in the Vision will necessarily be delivered, at least in the short term, it is an important document in providing an agreed approach to the management and use of the marsh as it continues to evolve and change over time.

Porlock Marsh Vision 

Porlock Vision Document

Consolidating your thinking

Sustainable development lies at the heart of the Porlock Marsh Vision document.  A generally accepted definition of sustainable development is growth in human prosperity and wellbeing which conserves and enhances the ability of ecosystems to provide the natural resources and services upon which human life depends.  Consider the following objective of the Vision which encapsulates this thinking:

“The Marsh should be a real asset to the local community and businesses as an area for leisure and appropriate recreation activities and through attracting more visitors (and a more diverse range of visitors) as part of a package encompassing Porlock, Porlock Weir, Bossington and the wider

Porlock Manor and Holnicote estates. However, this should not be at the expense of spoiling the Marsh or detracting from its special qualities” (p.7)

Reflect for a while on how short the period of time has been since the breach in the ridge in 1996 to present day compared with its 6000 year existence.  Consider also that it has only been in the past few hundred years that the geomorphological processes that drive the changing ridge morphology have begun to impact significantly on the lives of people.  Local communities are now embracing a sustainable approach to future economic and social development for the area which recognises the importance of allowing the coastline to evolve naturally.  Suggest some of the challenges which the community is likely to face in the future in delivering the key principle quoted above.