When I heard that a Volunteer Community Ranger was needed for the 92-acre Dunsland Estate, I jumped at the chance to get involved. My wife Jill and I have been members and supporters of the National Trust for some time now and have long thought that we would like to volunteer in some way. But as most Trust properties are more than twenty miles away, volunteering on a regular basis means a lot of travelling. We often walk in Dunsland so this appointment simply means that we are able to give something back in return for the pleasure we get from being in these beautiful surroundings. Jill helps me out as my deputy and our spaniel Holly is our deputy dog!
The story of Dunsland goes back in time as far as the Domesday Book and the house that the Trust bought had Tudor origins. It had been handed down, sometimes through the female line, for at least forty generations. Sadly as the twentieth century approached, it fell into decline and it was purchased by the National Trust for the nation in 1954. As we know,after the extensive renovations were completed in 1967, a disastrous fire completely ruined the building and it was felt that there was no option but to demolish it as the fire had eaten into the mortar in the brick and stone work. It was decided not to rebuild the house as it would only have been a copy of the original and therefore of no historical value.
The full time Ranger responsible for Dunsland, Gregg Wilson, is based at Brownsham near Clovelly and it was there that I and two other new recruits had our induction, adding our names to the list of over 60.000 volunteers who are vital to the day to day work the Trust does nationwide. Two full-time Rangers, together with one who is part time, operate from the Brownsham site. They are responsible for parts of the South West coastal path owned by the Trust at places near Welcombe and Brownsham, round at Portledge, Abbotsham and at Kipling Tors near Westward Ho! Alongside the job of maintaining the paths they are also responsible for many parcels of woodland and the associated nature trails that run alongside the coastal paths.
On the day of my induction, after being given a rundown of the duties I will be expected to perform, I and the other two new-boys (a term I use loosely), were
issued with fact sheets, a T-shirt and fleece, some work gloves and a pep-talk laced with enthusiasm! We had a look around the site including the on-site workshops and then set off in the Land-rover for a tour of some of the local properties (a term used by the Trust to describe any land or buildings owned by them) including the coastal paths that come under Brownsham H.Q. the Brownsham office. All in all, it was a very interesting day and I came away with a greatly enlightened view of the hard work that the full-time Rangers and the many volunteers do on behalf of the National Trust.
It seems that Dunsland was the only N.T. property in the south west that didn’t have its own volunteer community Ranger, hence the move to recruit one.
My role as Dunsland Ranger is simply to keep an eye on the park-land and the remaining coachhouse and stables, making sure that everything is as it should be and there hasn’t been any vandalism etc. These buildings are in good order and are being utilised by the Holsworthy beekeepers who have some hives in the small paddock to the rear. Also, I check the fencing and gates etc. and if we’ve had a windy spell, I walk the grounds to see if the trees have weathered the storm.
The Trust has re-planted an orchard in one of the paddocks, bringing in some of the old varieties of apple, pear and plum etc.; these trees are pruned and mulched each spring and have stock-proof guards around them. There was a walled kitchen garden, but all that remains are a few sections of the old walls and nature has reclaimed the beds and it has all become very overgrown. At the beginning of June, together with some other volunteers, we cleared most of the old plastic tree guards from an area where re-planting had taken place a few years ago. These guards are supposed to biodegrade, but that hadn’t happened and some of
the young trees were suffering because the guards had filled with rotting muck and debris, causing some of them to rot.
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to have a walk in the lovely parkland, then I urge you to put on some stout footwear and come out for a wander. There is a small car park with an honesty box if you have some loose change and walking is on hard tracks. It’s level for the first 150 metres or so with a not too difficult uphill walk to where the house once stood. It’s important to point out that from
spring through to late autumn, cattle owned by the local farmer graze the fields and with this in mind, if you bring your dog, please keep it under close control at all times. The cattle quickly become accustomed to seeing people and generally mind their own business. Please feel free to wander “off road” if you want to get a closer look at the wonderful trees; just be careful that you don’t put your foot into something wet and sloppy! There are some wonderful old chestnut trees and
some fantastic oaks, also, on the right, heading up the hill, there is a huge horse chestnut tree, the branches of which extend right down to the ground.
There is a pond that needs a bit of attention and a small stone building with a spring welling up inside it that must have been used for centuries to collect drinking water. A pair of binoculars will give you a close-up view of the local bird population and roe deer can sometimes be seen on the woodland edge. The site has SSSI status for lichen and deadwood invertebrates, (which I have to admit is not my specialist subject). In the spring, celandines and snowdrops bloom on the woodland floor and later bluebells are everywhere. There is a large magnolia tree and several huge rhododendrons standing on the edge of the woodland overlooking the area where the house once stood. Also there is a large
information board showing pictures of the house before and after the fire and giving a brief history of the property through the ages.
I am hoping that I will be able to give a short update of the seasons activities in the future, in the mean time, should anyone have any questions or concerns regarding a visit to the site, please don’t hesitate to contact me, my mobile is 07787726419 or get in touch with the Ranger team 01237 441976.
This is a wonderful local amenity and I hope that more people will take the opportunity to enjoy it.
David Manifold – Dunsland Community Ranger