Social Media Threatens Future of West Country’s ‘Mysterious and Magical’ Beauty Site


One of the West Country’s most delicate ancient habitats – which has been described as “mysterious and magical” – is threatened by large numbers of visitors.

Renowned artist Tony Foster is the latest to blame the ‘excessive tourism’ which now threatens the precious beauty spot of Dartmoor.

Wistman’s Wood is known as one of the most picturesque and evocative places in all of the South West.

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In June, Natural England bosses urged people to walk around the distinctive trees and rocks that make up the unique landscape.

But Foster says social media and the lockdown have changed the “magic” location for the worse.

He told the Guardian: “A few years ago, when I painted it for five days, I saw three people.

“It was calm and mysterious, a magical place. Social networks have made it an essential experience. People are picnicking everywhere, leaving rubbish in their wake. Excessive tourism can destroy a place.

Foster was speaking as a new exhibition on his work opens in Cornwall. Fragile Planet: Watercolor Journeys into Wild Places takes place in Truro.

Wistman’s Wood is said to be the remnant of what was once a large forest that covered much of Dartmoor

The Cornish-based artist is famous for his images of the wilderness. But he says new buildings and the Covid pandemic have made it harder than ever to find untouched landscapes.

Wistman’s Wood was protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1964 and is managed by Natural England.

It is a small relic of the upland oak forest that would have been much more extensive on Dartmoor. There are over 100 different species of lichens in the area. In 2019, it was ranked 100 in the list of the most haunted places in the country,

But it has become a mecca for people looking to get out and about during the lockdown.

Wistman's Wood - how do we protect it for future generations?
Wistman’s Wood – how do we protect it for future generations?

Their presence has caused serious damage to the area, according to Devon city councilor and park warden Philip Sanders.

He said garbage is left behind, while lichen – which takes centuries to grow – is stripped from trees for “hanging baskets.”

“Until recently, only the locals were really in the know, but with the coronavirus restrictions this year, people are coming from further afield,” he said. Online Mail.

“I don’t want to discourage people from coming to enjoy Dartmoor, but more recently a lot of people who have come to Wistman’s Wood are not interested in conservation.

“It’s been really since the first lockdown. We’ve had issues before but not on this scale. Up to 400 people visit it every day.

“Moss and lichen are taken which is illegal and I guess for the hanging baskets.

Natural England has previously said it wants to avoid “any damage to fragile habitats, trees, lichens and mosses”.

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