Thursday, 15 November 2007

Council alliance saves future of Exmoor's main tourism brochure

AN alliance to rescue West Somerset and Exmoor’s main tourism brochure has been forged between West Somerset Council and the Exmoor Tourist Association (ETA).
The ETA and the council have worked closely together to broker a deal with directors of Exmoor Coast and Country Ltd to ensure the vital tourism guide will be produced as normal, after the company sent out a plea for help.
The limited company was registered by businessman John Richards at one of his Watchet addresses, who is a former director of tourism promoter Visit Exmoor, which is now being wound up after internal wrangling.
Now, tourism businesses which want to advertise in the 2008 brochure are being urged to contact co-ordinator Naomi Griffiths as a matter of urgency.
They have only until November 20 to telephone her on 01984 639642 or email her at
Council tourism portfolio holder Councillor Michael Downes said: “The council and the ETA have been in intense negotiations during the last three weeks and we are delighted to announce that we have secured a rescue package for the brochure not only for this year, but until 2010.
“We would like to express our thanks to local businesses and advertisers for bearing with us over the last few weeks.
“The ETA has a proven track record of tourism delivery, and we welcome the experience and knowledge they will bring to future brochures.”
The ETA and the council have drawn up letters of intent to formalise the arrangement which will now go to the council’s cabinet for ratification.
ETA chairman Antony Brunt said: “The owners of Exmoor Coast and Country Ltd have agreed to gift their shares to the ETA.
“We would like to thank all the affected businesses for their patience while we have been working on this rescue package.
“We know that we are able to deliver a quality publication for the tourism industry for 2008.
“Timescales are tight and we will have to move fast, but we are very confident about the publication.
“Exmoor Coast and Country plays an incredibly important role in the promotion of Exmoor and West Somerset.
“Many tourism businesses rely heavily on this guide to get visitors to their hotels, guest houses, self-catering accommodation, and attractions, and we are thrilled that we have been able to work with the council to ensure that this guide is not lost.”
Council leader Councillor Keith Ross said: “The council recognises the importance of tourism to local businesses and the economic benefits it brings to the district.
“We immediately diverted resources into this area to avoid a crisis and we are delighted with the outcome.
“The council has, over the last few months, taken stock of its priorities. It is happy to build on constructive, effective partnerships and forge new alliances when the need arises for the greater good of everybody.
“The ETA and the council have worked hard to secure the provision of the tourism brochure, and we are delighted that our hard work has paid off.
“We are really pleased to be working with the ETA which is a proven, long-standing and well-respected organisation among local tourism providers.”
The council has supported production of the Exmoor Coast and Country Guide has by the tourism industry for more than 10 years.

Hundreds of red deer to be shot as part of Quantock Hills management plans

PLANS to shoot hundreds of red deer on the Quantock Hills have caused upset among animal welfare groups.
They have condemned the cull event as ‘unnecessary and barbaric’.
But the Quantock Deer Management and Conservation Group said it would be necessary to reduce numbers of deer to levels which were ‘manageable’.
The group is asking landowners on the hills to help with the shooting, which will take place during Friday, November 30.
The current deer herd on Quantocks is estimated to have grown since hunting was banned three years ago to be close to the higher end of its annually fluctuating size of 700 to 900 animals.
Around 850 deer are thought to inhabit the hills, which are a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, of which about 700 are hinds and 150 stags.
The deer spill out onto surrounding farmland and cause damage as they feed on crops, resulting in friction between the farming and landowning community with animal rights groups.
The management group believes the herd needs to be reduced to about 500 in order for it to be properly managed.
It organises an annual cull of the red deer and said this year it wanted to have proper co-ordination of Quantock landowners.
The group’s secretary, Dr Jochen Langbein said farmers and landowners became concerned when they often experienced 50 or more deer on their property at the same time.
Dr Langbein said: "We aim to get deer back to levels people are happier with."
However, South West Deer Protection Group chairman and anti-hunt campaigner Kevin Hill said the cull would ‘end up a bloodbath’.
Mr Hill said: “I am concerned that we will have guns positioned on every farm.”
The deer management group was formed in 1991 to promote greater liaison between landholders, environmental organisations, huntsmen, stalkers, and other parties.
It is committed to ensuring the long-term survival of a healthy and well-distributed population of red deer in and around the Quantock Hills in balance with its environment and other land uses.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

County starts work on controversial railway site

WORK has started on a controversial industrial and business development next door to the West Somerset Railway Station, in Minehead.
The £6 million scheme by Somerset County Council will deliver modern workspaces for businesses and a 110-space car park.
When it was first mooted by then-Conservative controlled West Somerset Council in partnership with the county council, the scheme provoked huge protests by the Lib Dem-sponsored pressure group Direct to the effect that it would ruin the railway as a tourist attraction.
No such protests have been evident since the Lib Dem county council took over the scheme.
The project is being funded by the county council, South West of England Regional Development Agency, European Regional Development Fund, and the West Somerset Railway.
It aims to support the expansion of the West Somerset economy by providing jobs, encouraging investment, and boosting tourism.
County council portfolio holder for economic development, Councillor Alvin Horsfall, said: “We have been delighted with the level of public interest and participation in this project, and the council put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the design will provide what the local community wants.
“It is satisfying to reach this important milestone and I look forward to it opening in July next year.”
The South West RDA has invested in the project as part of its support for market and coastal towns, which often have vulnerable economies.
RDA development manager David Rees said: “It will help create a more vibrant economy for Minehead by providing new high quality workspace for small and medium companies, including start-ups.”
The railway is also planning to install a turntable while the work progresses, on which to manoeuvre its famous trains.
There will be a public viewing area for people to watch the steam trains turn, as well as a café and retail opportunities.
The scheme also includes the facility for different events to be held at the site, such as farmer’s markets and trade fairs.
Railway general manager Paul Conibeare said: “This is a turning point for Minehead and the West Somerset railway and will attract excursion trains from all over the UK.
“It is also a tribute to the dreams of the pioneers who, 30 years ago, brought back the turntable from north Wales.
“We are pleased to be working with our partners to turn their dreams into reality.”
  • Our photographs show {top} county council chairman Councillor Alan Gloak (front, centre) with officials at the start of work on the project, and {below} work underway on the site. Photos submitted.

Duke of Edinburgh to present awards to West Somerset youngsters

FIVE young people from West Somerset have been invited to St James’ Palace, London (pictured, below) to collect their Gold Award under The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme.
Prince Philip and his son the Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, will present the awards personally to Emma Hoyland and Emma England, both aged 18, Gary James and Jonathon Hobbs, both aged 19, and 20-year-old Ryan Johnson.
The award programme in Somerset is run by the county council through schools, colleges, youth groups, and open award centres.
A total of 42 young people from Somerset achieved Gold Awards and have been invited to the Palace.
They spent more than 12 months helping others, learning new skills, and taking part in action-packed adventures.
Often, the youngsters had to arrange activities with people they did not know in order to help develop self-confidence and communication techniques.
Somerset is the leading county in the South West for the number of young people participating and gaining their Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards for the fourth successive year.
Robert Sampson, the county’s Duke of Edinburgh Award officer, said: “Participation in the award requires a lot of hard work and dedication from the young people involved.”
Councillor Pauline Clarke, the county portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “We support participation in The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as it is a great opportunity for young people for lifelong learning and achievement.”
More information about The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is available from co-ordinator Helen Watkins on 01823 447120 or by emailing

Dulverton residents invited to drop-in to raise community concerns

A DROP-in session is being held in Dulverton to allow local residents to meet representatives of a range of community service organisations and raise any issues of concern
It takes place in Dulverton Town Hall (pictured) between 10.30 am and 12 noon on Wednesday, November 21.
Police, West Somerset Council, Magna West Somerset Housing Association, the county youth service, and Dulverton Town Council will be among the organisations represented.
Residents will be able to discuss any community safety issues or other matters that they would like to raise.
District council community safety officer Pete Hughes said: “West Somerset has low levels of crime but that is no reason to rest on our laurels.
“The council and its partner agencies are working hard to ensure that levels remain low, and a part of this work involves going out into the community and understanding their concerns.
“This is a good opportunity to listen to local residents and, in many cases we can offer reassurance or give further advice on the day.
“However, it also gives us an insight into how the community perceives crime and disorder, and how we may be able to act on their information in future.”
Anybody is welcome at the drop-in session and light refreshments will be available.
People who cannot make the event are being advised to contact the appropriate agency if they have specific concerns.
More drop-in sessions will be held in Dulverton on future dates to provide the community with further opportunities to meet representatives from the agencies.

Kate is given job of keeping West Somerset people healthy

A DEDICATED portfolio for health and well-being has been created at West Somerset Council to reflect the importance of such issues in a district with the third-highest proportion of pensioners in the country.
The work has been separated from that of the housing portfolio holder who previously held responsibility for both roles.
Newly-elected Councillor Kate Kravis (pictured) has been given the cabinet job of covering health and well-being, while one of the longest-serving councillors, Councillor Peter Humber, retains his housing portfolio.
Council leader, Councillor Keith Ross, said: “This is another positive step towards delivering our community priorities.
“Councillor Humber has made very real progress in the area of housing, health, and welfare.
“However, he has expressed a wish to devote his considerable energy to strengthening existing partnerships and forging new ones to provide affordable housing and decent homes for local people in West Somerset.
“I respect his wishes and commend his commitment to this vital area of work.
“In order to maximise the benefits to our local residents, I have appointed the final seat on the cabinet to Councillor Kravis, who has agreed to become portfolio holder for health and well-being.
“It is an area that is critical to the current and future welfare of local people and communities.
“She has ability, determination, and vision and will be a real asset not only to implementing and promoting initiatives designed to improve the health and well-being of local people, but to the running of cabinet itself.”
Councillor Humber said: “Councillor Kravis and I will share what is a very wide-reaching portfolio in order to deliver the best service possible to local people.
“Housing is very close to my heart. I wish to concentrate on this area so I can help make real and positive differences in the provision of affordable housing for local people, the development of eco-friendly homes, and ensuring as many people as possible live in homes that meet the decent homes standard.”
Councillor Kravis, who represents Old Cleeve, said: “I am delighted to share the workload because I believe that the health and well-being of people is essential to the overall contentment and sustainability of our communities.
“We are lucky to still have close-knit, caring communities in West Somerset, and my aim is not only to ensure their well-being, but to also make sure that they are inclusive of everybody irrespective of age, ability, gender, background, or belief.
“We have developed strong partnerships to help improve conditions for local people and I intend to build on those foundations so that local people and communities get the best support available.”

Grants available for West Somerset residents to cut winter heating bills

GRIM warnings by consumer groups that energy bills could go up by as much as 10 per cent over the next six months are being tackled in a joint initiative by West Somerset Council and the UK’s longest-running and largest home energy saving project, the Heat Project.
Worries about rising costs stem from utility firms failing to pass on the resultant savings from last year’s fall in fuel prices.
Coupled with the forecast that the winter months ahead will be noticeably colder than last year, increases in energy bills could equate to \ devastating financial blow for many people living in West Somerset and Exmoor.
The council-endorsed Heat Project is currently targeting homes throughout the district through a mailing campaign to increase awareness of the grants available to all households for the installation of loft and cavity wall insulation.
It has been calculated that in a poorly-insulated property, up to 35 per cent of the heat produced by a central heating system is lost though walls, while 25 per cent escapes through the roof.
The installation of loft and cavity wall insulation is a relatively quick, easy, and cost-effective way of minimising such heat loss and significantly reducing a household’s carbon footprint, while also saving a potential £345 per year on energy bills.
Council portfolio holder for health and welfare, Councillor Kate Kravis, said: “We have supported the Heat Project for three years and recognise that grant-funded insulation schemes such as this help reduce the carbon footprint of the district as well as lowering residents’ fuel bills.
“We are happy to support and promote the scheme knowing that the Heat Project will continue to provide excellent customer service and workmanship, and we hope that local people will take advantage of this great offer.”
Grants available for these energy saving measures are limited, and anybody who wants to apply for a grant for insulation through the Heat Project should do so quickly to avoid disappointment.
Depending on the household’s circumstances, individuals who are in receipt of qualifying benefits may receive the insulation measures completely free.
Further information about the Heat Project in West Somerset is available by calling a free helpling on 0800 093 4050.

Pudsey Bear takes Children in Need bus to West Somerset

PUDSEY Bear took a bus ride to West Somerset to promote this year’s BBC Children in Need appeal, which takes place on Friday, November 16.
He visited children attending Stogursey Primary School on Tuesday, November 13, before climbing aboard the BBC Somerset bus to tour other schools and shopping areas around Somerset.
This year, Pudsey has been revamped with a fresh new look and is encouraging everybody to ‘do something different’ for the charity and make a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.
BBC Somerset Sound journalist, Andrew Enever said: “It is great to be able to take Pudsey out and about to meet people in the local community.
“He is a huge hit with the kids and we are really looking forward to taking him into local schools and shops to meet everybody raising money and donating.”
Children in Need is in its 28th year and aims to positively change the lives of disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.
Organisations which have received funding from the charity all work with youngsters aged 18 and under, who may have mental, physical, or sensory disabilities, behavioural or psychological disorders, or are living in poverty or situations of deprivation, or suffering through distress, abuse, or neglect.
More information about BBC Children in Need and how people can be involved is available by visiting
  • Our photograph shows Pudsey on the BBC Somerset roadshow bus. Photo submitted.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Festive market brings Christmas trading boost to Dunster

TRADERS in Dunster are set to receive a seasonal boost when a festive farmers’ market is held in the beautiful surrounds of Dunster Castle on December 1 from 11 am to 3 pm.
More than 25 local producers taking part in the market will be offering everything from meat and fish to Indian cuisine and chocolates.
Visitors will be able to buy their Christmas puddings and cakes and stock up on warming cider brandy and exquisite local preserves.
There will be a chance to sample hot cider punch and homemade pastries and pies.
Afterwards, visitors can take a look around the grounds of Dunster Castle, visit the special National Trust Christmas Shop in the castle dining room, or wander into Dunster village to continue their Christmas shopping.
The market is being organised by the National Trust with support from Somerset Food Links.
It is the fourth year the popular festive market has been held.
Parking is available at the castle for £2, or a short walk away in the village.
There will also be an opportunity to book a guided tour of the castle halls for the annual ‘Deck the Halls’ event with demonstrations of garland and wreath making.
Advance booking is advisable on 01643 821314. Prices are £3 for adults and £1.50 for children.
  • Our photograph shows Mignon and Andrew Johnson, who will be attending the festive farmers’ market with their range of Indian foods. Photo submitted.

Appeal for witnesses to death of man walking on A39

WITNESSES are being sought to an accident in which a young man was killed when he was hit by a car as he walked along the A39 early on the morning of Saturday, November 10.
The man was named by police as Ashley Richard Taylor, aged 21, of Coultings, Fiddington.
He died as a result of his injuries shortly after he was hit by a Peugeot 307 car at about 6 am.
Mr Taylor was walking along an unlit area of Quantock Road, near Wembdon, on his way out of Bridgwater toward Cannington when the accident happened.
Police would like to speak to anybody who may have witnessed the collision or may have seen Mr Taylor walking on the road a short time before.
Anybody who can help is asked to contact the Collision Investigation Unit on 0845 4567000 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Alternatively, the secure Crimestoppers internet contact form can be used by logging on to
Callers do not have to give their name, but they could receive a reward for helping the police.

North Pole record attempt by former Watchet woman

ADVENTURER Hannah McKeand, who was brought up in Watchet, is to try to become the first woman to ski alone and unsupported to the North Pole.
Hannah, aged 34, whose mother Julian Burbury still lives in the town, last year set a record as the fastest person to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole.
Now, she has her sights set on an Arctic record which she will attempt in February of next year.
She plans to ski the 415 miles over shifting ice from Ward Hunt Island, on the northern coast of Canada, to the North Pole, alone and without support in 60 days.
Hannah, who now lives in Newbury, Berkshire, would also become only the second solo and unsupported person ever to complete the epic journey.
British explorer Pen Hadow is the only other person to have made it, making three attempts before he was successful in 2003.
Hannah said: “Although the distance is shorter than the South Pole route, the expedition is much tougher.
“The terrain is extremely rough and the ice drifts away from the Pole, so it is rather like being on a conveyor belt and your legs cover a lot more distance than you are moving forward.
“I have huge respect for the environment that I will be immersed in.
“There are many risks to be assessed and managed and a lot of elements that are simply beyond one’s control.
“But I think with proper planning and preparation I have a good chance of success.
“I have spent several weeks training on the Arctic Ocean and I feel very motivated to get cracking, it is a fantastic place.”
Hannah said part of her success with polar expeditions was due to her physical make-up, being 6 ft 2 in tall and well-built.
She said: “I am able to gain significant weight before an expedition while at the same time reaching the necessary levels of fitness.
“This gives me a tremendous advantage in the polar environment. I am well insulated and able to travel on fewer calories than other lighter skiers.
“In addition to my physical make up, I have developed a solid mental approach to these expeditions.
“You have to be very driven, but at the same time, calm and methodical. I never feel more alive than I do alone in a huge icy wilderness.”
Hannah is one of the most experienced long distance skiers in the world and shares her experiences with people by giving talks to schools and corporate events, where she also spreads the environmental message on global warming.
She said: “Who better to talk about the deterioration of our ice caps than those of us who regularly spend time there and witness it first hand.
“Global warming is real and we have to act now. The environment is the responsibility of each and every one of us and I feel a responsibility to spread the word and encourage ordinary folk to get involved.”
Hannah is looking for sponsors to work with on her Polar record bid instead of funding the adventure herself as she has in the past.
She said: “It just seems like the right time. On the back of my new world record I really have something tangible to offer a sponsor.
“With my growing profile, it feels like I can make a really valuable contribution to a corporate relationship. I’ve never been interested in a free ride. I want to work with a company and feel like I am helping them achieve something.
“Apart from the more conventional sponsorship benefits such as brand placement and endorsement by somebody in my field, it would also be great to find a sponsorship relationship where my supporter has similar concerns and we could develop something together, maybe a schools tour and education programme or a corporate tour to encourage other companies to embrace their social responsibilities.”
Hannah and her partner David Pryce have also founded a new high latitude sailing company called Blizzard Expeditions to take people on explorations of the Southern Ocean regions.
More information about Hannah’s expeditions can be found on the website, and more about Blizzard Expeditions is available at
  • Hannah is pictured on a trip to the Antarctic. Photo submitted.

Monday, 12 November 2007

MP 'pesters' teenage woman over the internet

TAUNTON Deane MP Jeremy Browne, aged 37, has been accused of pestering a 19-year-old woman via the internet.
The MP, who is currently going through a divorce from his wife of three years Charlotte, tried repeatedly to make the young woman accept him as ‘friend’ on the social networking website Facebook.
Despite being rejected, Mr Browne persisted in contacting the woman to try to persuade her to change her mind.
He only stopped after the woman rejected up to half-a-dozen approaches from him.
The woman, who is a student and did not want to be identified, used to live near Wiveliscombe but has since moved to Taunton.
She told The Post: “The first time it happened I meant to reject it but I must have clicked on the accept button by mistake.
“When I realised what had happened, I removed him from my list of friends straight away.
“But the next day he came back again with another request for me to be his friend so I deleted it immediately.
“Then it happened again, and again. This went on over a period of several days and it was quite scary in a way that he kept trying it on after I said ‘no’.
“I knew he was the MP but I did not want him as a friend and I do not know why he would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
“When I told my friends what was happening, some of them thought it was rather ‘pervy’ that a 37-year-old man whom I did not know was trying to make friends with me over the internet.
“I have looked at Mr Browne’s Facebook site and it is obvious that he has a lot of women friends on it and a lot of them look to be quite young.
“On his MySpace site I noticed he had a 16-year-old girl as one of his friends, which really makes you wonder what he is doing.
“I’ve asked around and loads of my friends have got him on their sites as a friend but they do not seem to know why they added him, perhaps because they thought he was a friend of a friend.
“I have no idea how many other women this may have happened to and maybe some women have accepted him as a friend without realising it.”
The woman said it was a concern that her site had been obtained by the MP because it was not something she made available to people unless they were close friends.
She said her Facebook profile was closed except to her friends and the MP could not have found it by accident.
“He must have made an effort to track me down,” she said. “I once had a leaflet from the Liberal Democrats asking me about what I thought was important in the area and trying to get me to give them my personal details like my email, but I threw it away because I did not want them to know personal things like that.”
Mr Browne has recently boasted in his column in the Somerset County Gazette of the ‘wonders of Facebook’, which he said was ‘strangely addictive’.
He claimed to have 700 ‘friends’ on his site with whom he could ‘communicate quickly and frequently’ to impart information.
Mr Browne told The Post: “I can absolutely assure you that I did not do that. I do not want to be cast as some sort of internet stalker because that is not the case.
“I might occasionally ask people to be friends of mine. I did some when I started, but it is more now people asking me.
“Two other people in the office have password access to it and it is possible and conceivable that one member of staff has asked somebody to be a friend of mine and it is possible that the other one also did.
“I have no interest in coercing people to be friends of mine on Facebook, that is not my nature.”
Mr Browne said he used Facebook as a communication tool rather than for its social networking application.
He believed there was a tool for Facebook users to block unwanted approaches, similar to blocking unsolicited emails, and he was also checking whether there was any automated process which might account for a request being repeated.
  • Our photograph shows the teenager logging onto her Facebook site to check if MP Jeremy Browne was still bothering her. Photo submitted.