Tavistock & West Devon Branch report: Sep 2016 to Jan 2017

The first meeting of the new season opened in September with an inspirational talk on The Virtual Burrator project, a scheme originating from an idea to help patients recover from traumatic operations by introducing scenes of a virtual computer generated nature into hospital wards. Since then, it has grown to become a study of how novel technologies – from virtual and augmented reality to drones and unmanned marine vessels – can capture the county’s natural beauty and make the invisible visible. Professor Robert Stone from the University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technology (HIT) Team delivered the evening’s presentation, followed by live virtual reality demonstrations, illustrating the work the team has been undertaking in Devon since 2010.

Sue Viccars, editor and co-owner of the Dartmoor Magazine, was the speaker at our October meeting. Sue began by initiating members into the joys and frustrations she has encountered in the world of publishing over the years, emphasising in particular how fortunate she is to be paid to go walking. Having worked extensively on Pathfinder Guides, it was with the greatest delight that some three years ago she received a commission from the Cicerone Press to write a new book on the Two Moors Way Devon’s Coast to Coast. The route itself was the inspiration of Joe Turner, the first chairman of the Two Moors Way Association. In 2005 it was linked with the Erme-Plym trail from Ivybridge to Wembury on the south Devon coast to create a Devon coast to coast route of over 115 miles. 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of this well-loved local route.

In November the Branch was treated to a fascinating talk on new insights into the private life of fallow deer by Dr David Dixon. David is a well-known local naturalist whose recent media credits include BBC 1’s Spotlight, Inside Out and Nick Baker’s Wild West. Following a serendipitous contact with the Wrigley Company in 2004, he has recently been conducting a long-term study of 2,000 fallow deer in the Plym Valley. By employing the power of surveillance camera technology, David has been able to spy on their private lives in great detail, leading to some surprising new discoveries relating to the functional relationship linking large scrapes made by territory building dominant bucks and major deer paths and also demonstrating how rapidly fallow deer are able to adjust to a major change in their environment.

The speaker at our December meeting was Alan Endacott. Born in a Dartmoor longhouse, Alan has always been fascinated by Dartmoor’s history and the remains left by its people. He started his first museum at the curiously early age of seven and became the founder curator of the Museum of Dartmoor Life in 1981. Whilst walking in the area of Sittaford Tor after a moorland fire in 2007, he discovered what he thought to be some prone stones buried in the moorland peat which eventually turned out to be part of one of the largest stone circles on Dartmoor. From soil samples later submitted for radio carbon testing, Alan was subsequently acknowledged as the first person for over 4,000 years to have recognised a previously unknown Dartmoor stone circle. An undisturbed stone circle is highly unusual and it is just this lack of disturbance which has afforded the potential for shedding light on a site untouched by the activities of intervening generations.

Over 40 guests attended the Branch’s Social Evening in January where they enjoyed the opportunity to reminisce and engage with new members. The ladies of the Gulworthy WI produced another splendid buffet and this was followed by a brief but captivating talk by Brian Phillips who, until his retirement, was the Assistant Chief Constable of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Brian’s amusing insights into the lighter side of his life serving in the police force were greatly appreciated and formed a fitting end to a memorable evening.

– Barbara Edwards

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