The Brentor Commons

The Brentor Commons have an ancient origin, and formed an important part of the original parish of Brentor prior to the enlargement of the parish in the 1880s. They occupy a site of high landscape value on a ridge between Brent Tor and the Lyd Valley area of outstanding natural beauty. They command excellent views across to St Michael de Rupe and northwest Dartmoor.

If you would like to assist with work on the commons, or just want to know more, contact Will Walker-Smith on 860165 or email

Bowden Down

 SX 467 820 11.4 hectares (28.2 acres)

This fairly level area of degraded lowland heath is cut into two segments by a north-south road. It was the site of mining for manganese and ochre in the nineteenth century and the remnants of mining shafts and open cast workings remain. The western segment sports a fine display of bluebells in the spring and has remnants of the original heather cover. Small pearl bordered fritillaries and possibly pearl bordered fritillaries have been recorded here in the early summer. It is also an excellent location for watching cuckoos in the spring.

Liddaton Down

SX 458 820 6.5 hectares (16.1 acres)

This area of rough uneven land, 500m to the west of Bowden Down, is cut into four segments by cross roads. The land slopes steeply down to a stream in the south and towards the Lyd Valley in the north. There are three small quarries in the south-east segment, the largest of which is flooded and is known as Liddaton Pond. The northwest segment has a two-acre bluebell meadow.

The Brentor Commons Association (BCA)

The freehold of these two areas of common land was purchased by public subscription in June 2004 under the auspices of the Brentor Commons Trust (BCT) with the aid of a grant from the Dartmoor Preservation Association. Responsibility for the land was passed to The Brentor Commons Association in April 2005.The Association has 28 members and is a registered charity (number 1108422) whose objects are:

  1. Management
    To promote for the benefit of the public the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of Bowden Down and Liddaton Down, Brentor in the County of Devon (“The Brentor Commons”).
  2. Education
    To advance the education of the public in the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of The Brentor Commons.

This work is subject to the lawful rights of the commoners, who have a long-standing interest in the agricultural use of the land.


The Downs were areas of degraded lowland heath when they were acquired by the Association in 2004. The main priorities have therefore been scrub clearance and the identification and restoration of a wider range of habitats. The presence of unfenced roads and the lack of cattle grids make grazing impossible on both sites. The work must be done manually and in these activities management and education go hand-in-hand.

In 2019 work on the commons has been carried out by the Tavistock Taskforce who undertake restoration, renovation and environmental projects. They have a wide range of volunteers including people with additional needs who are gaining work experience and qualifications.  Their commitment , energy and positivity while working in fairly difficult conditions impressed everyone.  All of this work has been made possible by the amazing amount of money, £5,501, that the Brentor Commons Association received in 2018 from the Co-Op Good Causes Fund. It is great to recycle this money back into another local organisation.

Heather planting

Three hundred native heather plants were planted on Bowden Down by about a dozen volunteers after the village coffee morning on 6 October 2018. The plants were purchased using a grant from Brentor Parish Council.

This planting is part of the project to regenerate the Down and bring it back to its original habitat of lowland heath.  More work will continue this autumn and winter in conjunction with the Tavistock Taskforce, using funding received from the Co-op Good Causes Fund.

Tree planting

Two teams of hardy volunteers braved the weather  in late November 2019 to plant about 300 native trees on Bowden Down. On consecutive Sundays they planted a mixture of native trees , oak, rowan, hazel ,holly, birch, hawthorn , crab apple and wild cherry.  The trees, sticks and guards came from the Woodland Trust as part of their recent tree planting campaign.

It was interesting to come across trees that we had planted about 12/13 yrs ago that were now quite substantial small trees. We lose about 50% , as some just don't make it and others get grazed off by deer when the guards are removed, however, we also came across many self seeded oak, hawthorn and birch where they are protected by gorse, hawthorn and blackthorn from the deer.

Historically thorny scrub protected small trees from grazing animals on common land. "The thorn bush is the mother of the oak",  an old forest proverb, is very true.  There was a statute in the New Forest in 1768 which imposed 'hard labour' for three months upon anyone damaging holly or thorn, starting every month with a number lashes of the whip!

Some scrub has to be controlled to keep access open, let light in etc but it provides a very protective environment for many creatures and young trees.  It's a fine balance which our ancestors knew very well and managed to provide grazing, firewood, charcoal in a very sustainable way.

2020 Lottery Grant

Brentor Commons Association submitted an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund in December 2019 for a grant to enable them to continue and expand their work on the Brentor commons and to carry out surveys to produce an up-to-date picture of their flora and fauna.  It will enable a five-year conservation management plan to be produced, train and equip volunteers, hold events such as bat detecting, moth and small mammal trapping, pond dipping, and bird watching.  They will also run walks and hold talks on the commons in the village hall.

The bid for £44,500 was successful!  Of course the Association members are very excited about the prospects that the grant will open up, but now the real work begins.  The  National Lottery Heritage Fund supports environmental projects and ones which try to involve as many people as possible in the conservation, enhancement and understanding of habitats, so this application was exactly what they were looking for.

The award fits well with the objectives in The Commons Association Constitution:-

  1. To promote for the benefit of the public the conservation,  and improvement of the physical and natural environment of Bowden and Liddaton Down.
  2. To advance the education of the public in the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of the Brentor Commons.

The Executive Committee will be discussing plans and how they will implement them over the next 3 years. They will welcome ideas, suggestions and involvement from everyone in the coming months and years as this grant opens up many possibilities that they have aspired to in the past but have not always had the resources to follow up.

Damage caused to Liddaton Down

Serious damage to Liddaton Down was discovered it on 10th September 2017.  A large, probably four-wheel-drive, tractor with a heavy duty 'topper' has been driven around the south-east quadrant of the Down creating a three to four-metre wide track.  It has smashed into a particularly sensitive area  for butterflies which the Brentor Commons Association have been managing for some years and has caused considerable, possibly irrepairable, damage.

Will Walker-Smith, a member of the Association, has spoken to some of the Commoners and they have no idea who has done this.  The Police have visited the site twice and it have recorded the damage as a crime.  The Association is receiving advice from The Open Spaces Society and Devon Wildlife Trust and the damage has been featured in the Tavistock Times and will be on the Western Morning News.  The pattern of destruction is has been recorded using a Drone camera.

Some small trees have already been planted into the illegal access gaps to make it obvious that it is illegal to drive onto the Commons and signs with information about the damage, crime reference number etc will be erected.

The land is owned by the Brentor Commons Association and managed as a wildlife reserve with open access for members of the public.  The Commoners have rights to graze cattle, sheep and pigs, remove stone, turfs,  bracken and sedge from the Common. The commons have not been grazed for many years and have been owned by the Brentor Commons Association since 2004.

It is thought that the track may have been cut to create some form of 'off-road' track for either motorised trail bikes or, even worse, for four- wheel drive vehicles.

The area is being monitored on a daily basis and all people are asked to report any incursions to the police or the Brentor Commons Association.

Work in Autumn 2021

The Tavistock Taskforce completed a very productive day’s work on both Bowden and Liddaton Downs in glorious sunshine. The Taskforce was supplemented with helpers from The Duchy College, so we had three pieces of work going on at the same time.

On Liddaton we installed a new info board by the crossroad sign. It gives a comprehensive picture of the Down and it's flora and fauna.  This Down is well worth a visit as a change from walks on Bowden.

On Bowden the team finished cutting down and treating the gorse stumps by the side of the road.  The other team started to cut back a very overgrown area on the western edge of the Down. This area was a hotspot for small pearl Bordered Fritillaries and hopefully by reducing the bracken and gorse this will encourage violets to flourish next year and thus improve the environment for the butterflies.

We are always looking for new members to join and get involved in work on the Commons and its management, it's a very special local resource, with a very high bio-diversity.