Since the early 1800’s parts of the vast expanse of Dartmoor have been used for military training by the UK forces. From musket practice to munitions testing and now navigation, survival and tactical training with both blank and live ammunition, Dartmoor National Park has helped the Army, Airforce and Navy hone their skills for more than 200 years. The UK military’s Dartmoor firing and training areas are now split into two groups – north moor and south moor – and then into specific areas where different types of training take place. Near Langstone Manor Park, are three training ranges; one at Okehampton, another at Willsworthy, and our closest training area, Merrivale. These three training areas are supported by the Okehampton training camp.
Most of the ‘dry training’ takes place on the southern parts of Dartmoor around Sheeps Tor, Camber Tor and Ringmoor; a stone row and cairn circle.
In the late 1800’s, many of the Dartmoor training areas were used continuously between May and September. Livestock were cleared and the residents of East Okement Farm were required to leave their home during training. A bunker was eventually built for them to take shelter in during these exercises. Remains of the target systems used at this time can still be found on the moor today.
Almost 100 years later, after training for the Crimean war, WW1 and WW2 had been and gone, the Dartmoor Preservation Association carried out a survey of the damage the military were causing to the area. The 24 page report they published documented occurrences of unexploded shells, corrugated iron buildings, large craters and derelict war machines used for target practice. The debris from training and the damage to Dartmoor stone circles, standing stones and tors, along with the the shocking death of a small boy from a mortar shell, combined to convince the forces to curtail their practice and reduce the area of land used.
Today 32,559 acres of Dartmoor National Park are regularly used for military training requirements.
Much of the Dartmoor military training that takes place is now carried out on private land and undertaken according to the licence agreements in place with the relevant landowners – including the Duchy of Cornwall.
Red flags or lights are used to denote areas in use for training and look out posts are manned to ensure accidental access by the public is minimised.
While live firing does take place, in many cases blanks and pyrotechnics are used for adventurous and tactical battle training.
If suspicious objects or unexploded ordinance are discovered by the public, police and the military advise that it should be left untouched, noted and reported to the Training Safety officer at Okehampton camp (01837 657210), the local police or the National Park Visitor Centre.