In this blog, we would like to introduce you to Lady Sylvia Rosalind Pleadwell Sayer.
Lady Sayer was a renowned environmentalist and passionate crusader for Dartmoor, the beautiful moorland located in Devon, south-west England.
Born 6 March 1904, Sayer had a great passion for the environment and political responsibilities, which were inherited from her grandfather, Robert Burnard.
Robert was a founder of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (‘DPA’) in 1883 and achieved the first excavation of ancient memorials on Dartmoor. Following in her grandfather’s footsteps, Sayer became the chairman of the Dartmoor Preservation Association from 1951 to 1973 and continued to attend until 1999.
In 1925, Sylvia married Guy Sayer, a midshipman for the Royal Navy. Three years later they bought Old Middle Cator, a dilapidated Dartmoor long house and they had twins in 1930.
Soon after the commencement of World War Two, Guy was posted to the far east. This allowed Sylvia to explore her interest in local politics and subsequently, she became a parish councillor for Widecombe. Thereafter, she became a Rural District Councillor and then a member of the Dartmoor Sub-Committee of Devon County Council.
Lady Sayer gained her title in 1959 when her husband was knighted on his retirement. Once Guy retired, together they spent time working on Sylvia’s conservation works. She lived at Cator almost until her death, moving to a nursing home just two weeks before her passing.
Known for writing about key matters to Dartmoor and to facilitate change, Sayer wrote about the uniqueness of Dartmoor which was owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.
The privately Crown-owned estate funded public, charitable, and private activities, however, there was an urge to gain control over the soon-to-be national park at the highest level, so Dartmoor had a chance of gaining control over the Duchy and other Government departments.
Sayer became a member of the County Planning Committee, however, it is said she soon realised it failed to protect the moor to the level she expected and consequently she resigned.
Sayer played a significant role in all DPA conservation issues and one of the first key issues was the planned installation of a 643ft television transmitting mast at North Hessary Tor.
Sylvia voiced significant complaints after the Dartmoor Standing committee’s casting vote had relied on the chairman due to the absence of three members who may have opposed the mast.
The persistence of Sylvia, the DPA and the CPRE led to a public enquiry that took place in 1953.
Whilst the minister still granted the planning permission, amendments were made to lower the risk of impact.
Lady Sylvia Sayer – South West Heritage Trust (swheritage.org.uk) [Accessed 05-08-2022]
In one of their significant actions, in 1966 both Sayer and her husband purposely disrupted the live-firing movements on Dartmoor Royal Marines firing rangein an attempt to gather photographic evidence of destruction to the prehistoric stone row.
Sayer was known to make outrageous stances and she demonstrated to the press how wildlife and habitats had been negatively impacted and that due to the absence of a dedicated firing range area, pony trekkers, or hikers could have been in the firing line.
As the chairman of the DPA, Sayer alsoengaged in disputes over the planning of two new reservoirs on Dartmoor. She was successful with one reservoir, leaving Swincombe reservoir rejected at the bills committee stage.
Meldonreservoir,however, was passed in spite of claims that the water would be poisoned with arsenic and lead. In 1972 the Meldon reservoir was built, the same year the DPA published the 62-page booklet ‘The Meldon Story’.
Following Sylvia’s retirement as Chairperson, the DPA set up the‘Lady Sayer Land Purchase Fund’, using the funds to purchase thirty-two acres of land, in celebration of the successful fight against the Swimcombe reservoir.
In 1971, The Times newspaper described Sayer as “a militant, conservationist, who is a full-time thorn in the sides of those authorities and others who want to flood fence, dig up, knockdown and damage the Dartmoor National Park”.
We take this opportunity to recognise the tireless efforts and incredible work of Lady Sylvia Rosalind Pleadwell Sayer and all that she achieved.
Thank you, Lady Sayer.