Take action to protect and conserve the Exmoor National Park:

Mary Bryan Chugg 1935 – 2024

The Exmoor Society was saddened to learn of the death of one of its founder members Mary Chugg, who died on 5th January 2024.

Mary Cooper was born in Bristol on 28th August 1935 but her family moved to Barnstaple in North Devon when Mary was three or four years old, and she developed a lifelong love of Exmoor and its landscapes. She studied Education in Art & Design at Bristol University and married fellow teacher and Exmoor Society Founder Brian Chugg in 1955. She was a renowned local artist and exhibited annually at the Westward Ho! And Bideford Art Society and had a solo retrospective in the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple.

Mary was a founder member of the Exmoor Society. She explains how in the spring of 1958, they became aware of a proposal to plant conifers on The Chains, unspoiled moorland which belonged to Lord Fortescue. They were already acquainted with the Barnstaple doctor, Richard ‘Dick’ Harper, and his wife Margery, who were organising opposition. In June a meeting took place between the Chairman of the National Parks Commission, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission and Lord Fortescue, during which the intensity of local feeling against the proposal was discussed.
The opposition campaign stepped up with letters to the local, regional and national press, followed by a petition started by Dr Harper. The petition was launched in August and Mary describes how she asked everyone she knew for signatures. ‘I was 23 and completely naive about political matters,’ she says ruefully. ‘But it was rather easier in those days to make contact with people. North Devon seemed smaller somehow.’

Meanwhile, many of those who had petitioned against afforestation came together to form the Exmoor Society. ‘It was a very small affair to begin with,‘ Mary explains, ‘but after the success of the Petition it was realised that we needed “a watchdog”, a society that would keep an eye on what was happening on the moor in order to preserve its unique character and wilderness.’
“We were all aware that we had won a battle, but not the war. It was apparent that the conifer plan would not be the last threat to the Exmoor landscape and something more than a one-off campaign like our petition, however successful it had proved, would not be sufficient in the future. We had to keep going and lay the foundations for an organisation that would be capable of fighting Exmoor’s corner, no matter from which direction the threat emerged.”

Mary was twice presented with the Exmoor Society Founder’s Award. The first time was with her husband, Brian in 1985 in recognition of the part played by them and Margery Harper in the launching of the Petition. The second occasion was in 2011, in recognition of her ‘immense contribution’ to the Society, especially its work with children, her chairmanship of the Barnstaple Group and her significant contribution to the Society’s Education Endowment Fund.
Mary wrote that Exmoor “had always been a special place for us. Sometimes during a warm fine summer, we would return day after day – something always drawing us into its folds.” She and Brian have left a legacy of protection for Exmoor’s unique landscape for future generations.

Mary with the late Sir Anthony Acland and Rob Wilson-North

The black and white image at the top of this page shows Mary in her youth with her late husband Brian and Margery Harper.

Also in the news