Himalayan Balsam. (August 2021)

Over the last few months, I have been answering a frequently asked question… is there really any point in pulling Himalayan balsam? As this plant is so successful and prevalent on the UKs waterways, including our local rivers, this is a very good question.

For the uninitiated, this Victorian garden escapee, with its sweet scent and pink, bonnet-shaped flowers is a pretty riverside plant. But Himalayan balsam is classed as an invasive non-native species – a plant or animal known to spread rapidly and become dominant in an area or ecosystem, causing negative ecological, environmental and economic impacts.

Growing over two metres tall, it out competes other plants, reducing biodiversity. Being an annual species, it dies back in the winter leaving the banks bare and prone to erosion and collapse. This can wash silt downstream. Himalayan balsam and other plants readily colonise areas where silt collects creating islands of vegetation which can impede water flow.

It is challenging to access streams and riverbanks to remove balsam but allowing it to spread out of the floodplain, especially into woodlands or along roadside hedgerows is also a concern as these landscape features enable plants to spread easily and are particularly difficult areas to manage.

The responsibility for the control of Himalayan balsam rests with the landowner or tenant of the land. There is no obligation to eradicate this species or to report its presence to anyone. However, allowing balsam to spread to the wild or to a neighbour’s property would be an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. For over ten years there has been a joined-up approach in the catchment of the river Otter, with landowners and other groups sharing good practice. By working together this ensures most balsam in the lower valley is monitored with a regular, systematic management approach undertaken to remove it from target areas every summer. A seasonal part-time contractor spends 2 or 3 days every week managing the balsam on Clinton Estate land. Plants are removed by hand pulling or brush-cutting and this is supported by other Estate staff including mowing or chemical control where appropriate.

Volunteer support has been a vital part of this success. Last year around 100 volunteers (from the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and the Otter Valley Association) were mobilised between June and October. Individuals did between one and eighty hours pulling, contributing a total 1,118 hours of vital conservation work. Thankfully shallow rooted and non-toxic, it is rather satisfying to pull up a whole Himalayan balsam plant.

Local observers may think there is little progress to be seen on the main river. This is because much of the management work is targeting the tributaries of the river. These headwaters are often away from public rights of way, but much success has been achieved with this systematic approach to drive the balsam from source down but management is moving downstream every year and now includes areas of the floodplain.

Areas that were so heavily infested with stands of balsam several metres thick, a few years ago, have given way allowing other native species to return with only small pockets or sporadic balsam plants present. At some sites it is now possible for a couple of volunteers to manage a whole stream, walking the whole length only to pull a handful of plants. This is progress.

There is still a long way to go and must continue to visit all of the areas as to leave behind just one growing stalk risks a plant developing, able to jettison up to 800 seeds from explosive seed pods and if unchecked, starting the cycle all over again.

Volunteers have been out pulling for about six weeks or more. In the valley there are active volunteer groups you can join for a couple of hours. These groups will be tackling the areas where they will have the most impact but anyone keeping an eye out can make a difference. Even pulling a few plants in a hedge or riverside path will be helpful.

Kate.ponting@clintondevon.com  07917 104250

Summer is a busy time. Enjoy this seasonal snapshot from across the Estate.(July 2021)

Clinton Farms

The first cut of grass for silage was taken at the end of May to provide winter’s food for our dairy herd. These fields were then fertilised naturally with slurry to give the next crop of grass the best start. These cut and ‘empty’ fields are still delivering an important job so please respect our farm and those of our tenants. Help keep animals healthy and farmers happy by staying on footpaths and other permissible routes and not walking in fields without access routes or using them to exercise dogs.

We have installed signs on many of the gates to remind people about following the Countryside Code and to explain what is growing in some of the fields. Most of the land on the home farm is either given over to grass for grazing or grass for silage with some other fodder crops but this year we are also growing 30 hectares of potatoes for Riverford Organics.

Pebblebed Heaths

Cattle and Dartmoor ponies help us manage the heathland vegetation. Animals are now grazing Bicton Common, Hawkerland, Dalditch plantation and behind the temporary electric loop on Colaton Raleigh Common. Please remember to keep gates shut and report any issues to our rangers directly on 07792 242242 or 07976 062717. Thank you.

Delivery of visitor access improvement were delayed last year. But after such a busy time for the heaths we have worked with East Devon District Council to review these plans making sure they still deliver what is needed to make access easier while protecting the special character of the heaths and the wildlife that lives here. The work will take place in three phases to ensure that there are always car parks open while others are closed for refurbishment. It is expected that the first phase of improvements will take place later this year. The first will include Four Firs and Joney’s Cross car parks along with the informal roadside parking areas at Frying Pans and at Stowford.

Volunteer teams are poised to begin their summer tasks, whether monitoring bird or invertebrate species on the heaths or getting involved practically with weekly work parties to manage invasive Himalayan balsam plants on the tributaries of the river Otter. If you would like to be involved please contact mail@pebblebedheaths.org

River Otter

The programme of work for the Lower Otter Restoration Project has been revised following our decision to postpone, until this autumn, vegetation clearance that might cause disturbance to nesting birds. Work has started on the site for the new Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club. This is an exciting and tangible benefit to this project and will secure a sustainable future for this popular community asset.

North of South Farm Road, excavation of the creek network may also begin over the coming months with environmental exclusion zones providing a 50-metre buffer zones around hedgerows allowing birds to raise their young undisturbed.

From July if you walk by the estuary, look out for our colleagues from ABPmer as they will be collecting feedback on your visit to the lower Otter. An important part of the lower Otter scheme is understanding society’s current use of the site and how it is valued and tracking how that changes over time once the scheme has been delivered. We are always grateful for any engagements with us you might like to have and the data collected is valuable.

Bicton Arena

After the success of delivering a prestigious 4-star International Horse Trials last month this event also marks the end of an era at Bicton Arena, as Helen West is leaving to become the CEO of British Eventing.  Helen joined the Arena in 2013 and immediately saw how Bicton deserved to be up there with the likes of leading equestrian venues such as Blenheim and Bramham.  Back then, Bicton only hosted one British affiliated horse trial. Under Helen’s leadership there are now three, including two international horse trials. As well as three-day eventing Helen and her team oversee a full programme of show jumping and dressage.   Bicton supports riders of all standards. As well as attracting competitors at the highest level it also delivers an impressive offer of grass roots competition, training events and pony club camps. Whilst Clinton Devon Estates will be very sorry to see Helen go, we congratulate her heartily on obtaining such a high-profile role in the equestrian world.

Property and Land

Those who visit the businesses trading from Exmouth’s Liverton business park will have noticed welcome improvements to the junction onto Salterton Road, which will alleviate queuing traffic leaving the site. The work was carried out by MAC Plant, a small Southwest company who undertake contact work for Devon County Council. DCC contributed half the £200,000 bill and the remaining costs were split between Clinton Devon Estates and Exmouth Town Council.

This month the team also say goodbye to Eliza Raine, who has spent the year on placement and now returns to Harper Adams University to complete her studies to be a land agent. We look forward to welcoming surveyor, Tom Whiffen who will take up a new full-time graduate position with the Estate. We wish him every success in this new role.

Kate Ponting, Countryside Learning Officer  kate.ponting@clintondevon.com  01395 443881

Bicton Arena all set to host high profile fixture as Arena Manager, Helen West, designs a course to test the leading riders ahead of the summer Olympics. (June 2021).

When Bramham International Horse Trials, one of Europe's leading three-day events was cancelled, the team at Bicton Arena stepped up to host a replacement. This highly prestigious occasion with eventing classes at British Eventing 4-star level will take place this month between 10-13 June. This will be the first time Bicton have hosted a 4-star event. Only the Horse Trials at Badminton and Burghley surpass this level being 5-star events, but neither will run in 2021.

It is thrilling to have an event of this standard and profile at Bicton. The Arena team have a proven track record in putting on very successful 2 & 3-star events and have a socially distanced model in place to do their absolute best to deliver an alternative fixture for riders in these challenging times. Competing at Bicton International Horse Trials may be the last chance for many UK based riders to impress the Olympic selectors, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics taking place later this summer.

Follow the Bicton Arena social media channels for up-to-date information or visit www.bicton-arena.co.uk Although the competition will take place behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions, spectators won’t need to miss out on the action as the whole weekend is due to be live-streamed on Horse & Country TV.

Eventing combines the three top equestrian disciplines (dressage, cross-country and showjumping) and is the ultimate challenge for rider and horse. Horses competing at Bicton need to be fit as the parkland is undulating, but the permanent pasture drains well, and the grounds team are very experienced in managing this landscape to ensure conditions are the best they can be, come drought or downpour!

As well as overseeing the event organisation, Arena Manager Helen West will also design the cross-country course and has assured competitors the courses will be up to height, flowing and considered to be a fair 4-star test for this stage in the season given the interruption encountered at the beginning of the season due to COVID-19. Captain Mark Phillips will be acting as course advisor for Helen who is looking forward to this opportunity to work with him to produce a stunning track within the Grade-1 Listed Parkland. Competitors will also benefit from riding the dressage and show jumping phases in one of Bicton’s all-weather arenas.

As an experienced eventer herself, when designing, Helen prides herself on creating courses that are educational, setting just the right level of challenge for horse and rider. Four-star competitions are advanced in both the technicality of the dressage test and the height of the jumping phases. The show jumping is up to 1.25m in height while the cross-country is up to 1.20m. Very few horse and rider combinations make it to four-star level, making this one of best competitions in the UK eventing calendar.

Thanks go to the Arena’s neighbours at Bicton Park for allowing additional land to be utilised which means the additional distance required for the long cross-country course can be achieved without compromising on the flow of the route.

Pebblebed Heaths becomes UK’s newest National Nature Reserve.  (April 2021).

Clinton Devon Estates are celebrating this month as their largest wildlife site, the Pebblebed Heaths, has been awarded the status of National Nature Reserve.

On 13 May the chief executive and chair of Natural England, the government advisor for the natural environment, will visit to help mark the occasion. Celebrations will modest and in most part marked remotely but this doesn’t diminish this significance milestone for Clinton Devon Estates and the other organisations involved with the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths

The Pebblebed Heaths NNR join another nine across the county, others nearby include Dawlish Warren which became an NNR in 2000 and the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs which has been an NNR since 1955.

The majority of this new National Nature Reserve (NNR) covers landed owned by Clinton Devon Estates and managed on their behalf by the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust (PHCT). Additional areas are in the care of RSPB and Devon Wildlife Trust. The NNR includes the commons at Aylesbeare; Bicton, Colaton Raleigh, Dalditch, East Budleigh, Hawkerland, Withycombe Raleigh, Woodbury, Venn Ottery plus Bystock Reserve, Dalditch Plantation and Mutter’s Moor.

NNRs include some of the nation’s most important natural habitats with rare plant and animal species and geology. Many NNRs have protected status (as does the Pebblebed Heaths) but an NNR declaration recognises the nature and public benefit together. Most NNRs welcome groups of all ages to experience wildlife first-hand and learn more about wildlife conservation.

Clinton Devon Estates are delighted that the Pebblebed Heaths has received this accolade. It is by no means the only area of conservation importance that the Estate has in its care, however, for decades the site has been seen as the “jewel in the crown”. 15 years ago a Conservation Trust was established to professionally manage the core area of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths - nearly four-square miles of lowland heath. Very few estates have the conservation expertise to manage nature reserves of this importance and are trusted by Natural England to do so. This recognition, therefore, is a demonstration of how highly important nature conservation features amongst the Estate’s land management interests.

To hand future generations landscapes with increased biodiversity and better habitats we must first understand what we have, how best to protect and enhance it and how to manage the environment based on sound science. Alongside this aspiration the Estate is also committed to provide free and open access to the land where possible. Balancing the needs of nature and public recreation will almost certainly continue to provide some interesting challenges into the future too.

Visitors will continue to enjoy open access on foot, and on the areas in Clinton Devon’s ownership, the additional permission to cycle and horse-ride. The day-to-day management by individual teams from the PHCT, RSPB and DWT will continue, but a new management partnership with additional support and input from Natural England and East Devon AONB will help shape the strategic direction for the whole area including improving connectivity and resilience within the wider landscape.

In the future being an NNR will focus collaborations for the benefit of the whole site and its visitors. Joining the NNR network means we will be able to draw on the expertise of other conservation leaders and help influence at national level, raising the profile of heathland management and how estates can play their part in conservation. Other benefits may mean it is easier to secure funding, sponsorship and legacies for ongoing management and protection, and to continue to improve visitor experiences, offering high-quality life-long learning opportunities.

Local people who love and value the Heaths, will hopefully feel the same sense of pride as the Estate, with this additional recognition as one of the nation’s most important places for wildlife and people.

This special place, which, through history, has supported village communities, continues to add much to our local area and our everyday lives.

Preparatory work to get under way on the Otter.  (Mar. 2021).

Following the unanimous support of East Devon District Council’s planning committee for the Lower Otter Restoration Project, more preparatory work has been going on behind the scenes.

In recent weeks archaeological surveys have been undertaken at the site of the proposed new cricket ground off the B3178 East Budleigh Road and at the locations of what will be temporary works compounds. The results of these surveys will be shared with the public in due course once any finds have been analysed. In addition, the location of key notable plant species that will be translocated as part of the scheme have been marked out - look out for wooden stakes with their tops painted red!

Ground investigation works began in mid-March which involves mobile drilling rigs and excavators digging cores and trial pits across the site. Access of machinery will be via temporary aluminium tracks. This work is due to last about six weeks. These ground investigations will obtain geotechnical, archaeological, buried utility and highway construction information. This work is being undertaken by the Environment Agency’s contractor Kier and is part of the preparation for the main scheme, which is due to start in May/June.

Regular updates on this work will be shared on the social media channels of project partners including the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and Clinton Devon Estates as well as the project website www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk where you can sign up to receive email updates.

Environmental monitoring will include habitat creation, wading birds, physical changes to the valley, carbon storage, marine and freshwater fish. Studies will also evaluate the success of mitigation planned to replace those habitats that will be lost and the long-term socio-economic impact of the scheme. Please keep an eye out for future updates if you are interested in playing a part in monitoring the project’s environmental success or getting involved with the day-to-day management of this wildlife area in the future.

 

Ground Investigation works timetable:

•    Site set up for ground investigations will start from 15 March 2021.

•    Ground investigation works will start from 22 March 2021.

•    Planned completion of this phase is end April 2021.

This will involve:

•    A site office and staff welfare facilities will be located at the northeast corner of Lime Kiln Car Park.

•    Temporary trackway will be laid across the fields for machinery and vehicles to access the site.

•    Trial holes, bore holes and utility services investigations will be carried out across the site, between Lime Kiln Car Park and Otterton.

If you have any questions or comments about these site works, please contact Kier’s Public Liaison Officer Jayne Johnson by email, at exmouth.PLO@kier.co.uk or for urgent matters call 07716 223056.

Climate change is real and is impacting on society worldwide. The Lower Otter Restoration Project is part of a wider international scheme funded by the European Interreg VA France Channel England programme called Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts (PACCo)

Together with a sister project in the Saâne Valley, Normandy (France), PACCo’s aim is to highlight the impacts of climate change on coastal communities and to demonstrate that pre-emptive adaptation to climate change is far better and less costly to society than inaction. The lower Otter and Saâne valleys hope to lead the way in showing how communities can evaluate climate change risk and adapt to current and future risks and highlight the benefits that might result from doing so. 

A PACCo website and social media platforms will be launched very soon and this information together with regular updates throughout the project will be shared in local print and social media as well as through on-site interpretation. Engagement will also be face-to face as soon as it is safe to do so.

A positive start to the New Year as the Lower Otter Restoration Project is granted approval (Jan. 2021).

A very local but landscape-scale project to address the impact of climate change by returning the Otter estuary and flood plain to a more natural condition was given unanimous support by East Devon District Council’s planning committee at the beginning of the year.

The embankments built more than 200 years ago on the marshes between the parishes of Otterton and East Budleigh, to reclaim land from estuary, are now failing as we face rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. This timely initiative will ensure a sustainable future, deliver key government objectives set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan and Environment Bill and include the creation of new areas of intertidal habitats, to provide a home for numerous rare and endangered native and migratory species.

 Landowner Clinton Devon Estates started investigating options for the floodplain in 2003 and commissioned a number of studies. In 2014 along with the Estate’s Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, responsible for managing the area, a partnership was forged with the Environment Agency, forming the Lower Otter Restoration Project to explore ways of managing and funding the project, working alongside a wide-ranging group representing local people.

As well as recreating the former habitats, the project will also involve the realignment of South Farm Road, a new road bridge and footbridges and footpath improvements ensuring public access to the much-loved area will be assured into the future. Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club’s Ottermouth ground, an important community and regional asset, will be moved from its current location in the flood plain to land off East Budleigh Road, permission for which has already been granted under a separate planning application. Ideas on how this ambitious project might proceed were shared with the public over a number of years before a planning application was submitted by the Environment Agency at the end of 2020. The application was supported by a wide range of conservation and other bodies including RSPB, Natural England, the Jurassic Coast Trust and Devon Wildlife Trust who are keen to collaborate as the project moves forward.

Mark Rice, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “Climate change is affecting the way we manage our coasts and estuaries, and we must adapt to that change. The Lower Otter Restoration Project is an example of how we can do that. We aim to deliver long term benefits for people and wildlife by working in partnership and through more sustainable management of the Otter Estuary.”

Dr Sam Bridgewater, Head of Wildlife and Conservation at Clinton Devon Estates, said: “It is our belief that the Lower Otter Restoration Project will provide a more sustainable and certain future for the threatened Otter valley. It will also deliver very significant benefits to people and wildlife in the long term. The granting of planning approval is a major step forward in helping us deliver this vision.  We have worked very closely with a wide range of stakeholders representing local people who have helped us reach this milestone and we are grateful for their input over many years.”

Planning approval means work on the project can start this spring and be completed in 2023. The Lower Otter Restoration Project is part of a wider project PACCo – Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts – which will receive €17.8m from the Interreg VA France (Channel) England programme.

For more information, please visit the website www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk