Commando Helicopter Force restore Exmoor National Park

Royal Marine fliers were called in by conservations to help restore a National Park beauty spot.

Rather than guns, ammo or military vehicles slung beneath their Merlin Mk3 battlefield helicopters, two crews from 846 Naval Air Squadron – normally used to ferry commandos and their kit into battle – carried 80 tonnes of crushed stone to a remote spot on Exmoor.

The Commando Helicopter Force was asked to help Exmoor National Park Authority repair a two-kilometre stretch of the Tarka Trail in North Devon which had been badly eroded.

“It cannot be replicated in routine training and the variable, quick-changing weather on the moor adds a significant dimension to testing competencies and capabilities. “Working with the National Park means we are able to contribute something to the region in which we also live and train.” Said Commander Ed Vaughan, 846 NAS’s Commanding Officer

The ‘lift and shift’ operation was a test for trainee pilots and aircrewmen undertaking their final assessment – Exercise Merlin Storm – before earning their ‘Wings’, allowing them to deploy on front-line operations with the marines.

Injecting real-life tasks into flying training and the development of aircrews is invaluable

Commander Ed Vaughan

The stretch of bridleway in question is popular with walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers, but its exposed location means the route is typically wet and subject to erosion – so much so that authorities are often forced to close stretches to prevent horses becoming stuck.

The eroded stretch sits a good 1,500ft above sea level with the terrain and remote location ruling out park wardens delivering such a mass of stone – resulting in the request to the squadron from RNAS Yeovilton.

“Before 846 Squadron stepped in, we had no way of getting such a quantity of stone up there,” said a grateful Dan Barnett, the national park’s access and recreation manager.

“It’s great they have been able to help us as part of their training exercise.”

The work is expected to continue through October, weather permitting.