Do you have a picture that captures the ‘Spirit of the Heaths’?  (July 2020)

This summer, as many of us have enjoyed more time to explore and connect with the landscape, the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust (PHCT) team are excited to launch a new and exciting project, asking for a photo that captures what is so special about our heaths.

‘The Heaths and Me’ aims to explore through photography, the range of experiences and feelings we have on or about the heaths and asks our many visitors to define exactly what this place means to them.

As land managers, alongside our heathland colleagues at the RSPB and Devon Wildlife Trust we understand what makes the Pebblebed Heaths special; the habitats that are present, the wildlife they support and the historical features that are under our care. We also put a good deal of thought into how we engage with people to enable them to understand why the heaths are important and how to help us care for them. But with this project we want to dig deeper into why the heaths are important to the people that choose to spend time here. We recognise the strong sense of connection between local communities and the heaths. But those associations are diverse and not always tangible or simple for people to explain. But these often-overlooked details are important and help make up the story of the heaths, why it is special, and its spirit.

The project is being led by Kim and Kate at the PHCT helped by volunteer, Andy Thatcher who is also studying for a Masters in Photography, at Falmouth University. As well as providing a valuable archive, Andy will be selecting a number of contributions which he feel communicate something personal and individual, He'll then be adding his own photograph in response and bringing images and words together into a series of pieces for an exhibition next year.

With most people having access to a camera or a mobile phone we hope this will make it easy for as many people as possible to contribute and take part. Whether you are an experienced, amateur or a smart phone snapper; whether your photo captures den-building, sunrises, swimming dogs, a favourite stream or wildlife close up, on the open heath or deep in a plantation, all contributions will build up the story of this much-loved landscape. We hope everyone will be inspired to share their own image of their heaths.

Between now and September look out for our social media posts and pop-up reminders across the site to prompt you to contribute different types of image.

This isn’t a typical photography competition and we are not looking for the 'perfect shot', rather the sense of place or the moment or feeing it captures. So, snap a photo next time you are out on the heaths, scroll back on your phone or dig out something older from the album!

Share your photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #TheHeathsAndMe, or alternatively by emailing mail@pebblebedheaths.org.uk. Further details of the project can be found at www.pebblebedheaths.org.uk.

Natural connections (June 2020)

A glorious spring has helped those who have been able to go out, to take a break from work or confinement, to exercise or find solace by spending time in the natural world. For over six weeks many of us rediscovered the simple pleasure of walking from our front doors, taking time to notice individual birdsongs; the blackbird, the skylark or the cuckoo and, in time for VE Day, the patriotic display of wildflowers; ‘red’ Campion, ‘white’ cow parsley and stitchwort plus bluebells, growing in the hedgerows.

With many appreciating the countryside, as an incredibly important resource for our recreation, health, and well-being and those less familiar, might need a gentle reminder that it is not just a playground for our ‘down time’ but a living, working landscape which is their to be enjoyed but needs respect. Explaining the serious impact to livestock health if dogs stray into fields or that cyclists ought not take shortcuts on footpaths, should be straightforward and by the public having better understanding of these issues, visitors can help farmers to produce our food and everyone can share countryside spaces safely.

A harder task is to impress such messages on those who feel they are entitled to build dangerous and damaging jumps and pits, in woodlands, open to all. And it is almost impossible to engage with the small minority, so keen to improve their own environment but also happy to dump garden and household waste on a nature reserve for someone else to deal with. Thankfully, although fly tipping has been a time-consuming frustration, most visitors to the Pebblebed Heaths have been extremely respectful. Perhaps the increased appreciation during lockdown or having time to explore further, means many seem keener to understand more about the site and how it is managed.

With passers-by increasingly keen to stop, chat and find out what the conservation team are doing and why, work can sometimes take longer than anticipated. However, after some very quiet weeks the rangers have enjoyed the interest and taken the opportunity to explain and to remind visitors of their responsibilities to special sites like heathland with ground nesting wildlife, and grazing stock.

Adders are now active and inquisitive dogs can sometimes pay the price. On sunny days, these native, venomous snakes can be found across the heaths as well as on the coast path and other countryside areas. Keeping dogs close to heel on paths is the best way to prevent a snake bite and will also reduce disturbance to ground nesting birds and to livestock too.

The connection with nature may be welcome but the disconnection from other people may be harder to reconcile for those normally used to attending school, employment, or a myriad of social interactions each week. We have recognised the importance of staying in-touch with our volunteers, who normally work on the Pebblebeds or other parts of the Estate every week. We catch-up on our regular work-party day, at coffee time by video link. Taking time to check in more regularly and maintain the small, simple connection with others we see regularly is key to their wellbeing too, especially if they have been kept away from the spaces they love. We are all looking ahead to the time when we can be outside in our special places, working together and appreciating both.

As I write, the most stringent restrictions are finally loosening. The challenge will be to maintain these “natural” and “human” connections as life slowly moves back to full speed again.

Stay safe | stay connected

Doing today what is right for tomorrow. (May 2020)

The Rolle Estate Office and Bicton Arena closed weeks ago but where possible the rest of the Estate remains open and operational. All necessary adjustments have been made to ensure that the health and safety of tenants, employees and visitors as well as livestock welfare is maintained, despite this unprecedented and very challenging situation we all find ourselves in.

Many staff are now able to work from home but for the farm team this isn’t an option as cows and heifers still need to be fed and looked after. The team at Clinton Farms has successfully adapted their entire milking operation to ensure staff can meet social distancing requirements whilst keeping the milking parlour running and caring for hundreds of cows, every day. Our milk vending machine at Otterton Mill has seen sales double since the pandemic began and we have reduced the cost to a pound per litre to further support local communities at this difficult time.

All communities across the Estate seem to have established calm and organised systems to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and isolating. By working alongside these local resilience networks, Clinton Devon Estates have been exploring ways to offer both practical and financial support to many of these projects. Contact us if you think we can help.

Many people are making the most of their daily exercise to explore local footpaths, bridleways and even roads whilst the traffic is reduced. Take a moment to check any off-road routes on a map or phone app beforehand and please don’t put those living in rural properties, farmer workers or their livestock at greater risk by taking shortcuts or detours especially into farmyards and fields. Signs were installed recently on 30 gates across the farm to remind anyone who might be less used to exercising on farmland about the importance of this. With increased footfall, it is vital that everyone sticks to Rights of Way and always picks up after their dogs EVERYWHERE they go. This initiative has already reduced the number of walkers wandering across the farm and should hopefully keep our cows happier and healthier as well.

Although many recreational sites across East Devon have closed, the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths remain accessible for air and exercise. Government guidance is clear about the need to stay home as much as possible, but there has never been a more important time to contribute to mental and physical wellbeing of local people enabling them to escape for far-reaching views and relative solitude. We have received thanks from many who value this aspect of the heaths, more than ever including several from key workers grateful for the chance to get outside after a long shift.

The Pebblebed Team hope to continue to support public access whilst managing the site for wildlife over the coming weeks. Vital conservation work includes keeping the heath safe from fire, improving habitats and surveying the rare wildlife. Our rangers are also monitoring visitor numbers and behaviour and staying alert for fly tipping and wildfire. Fourteen grazing ponies have arrived to help with vegetation management in the Hawkerland valley so if you are out and about, remember to close gates and take extra care when driving between Joney’s Cross and Hawkerland Road.

There is also still a good stock of Pebblebed Beef for people to buy so if you fancy a locally produced roasting joint, steak or mince contact stantyway@gmail.com for price list and to arrange collection from Otterton. Delivery may be available for larger orders.

If you can’t get out just now to see spring unfold in the countryside, maybe follow Clinton Devon Estates or the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to see regular wildlife updates and information. Stay safe and well.

kate.ponting@clintondevon.com 01395 443881

Clinton Estates to trial ideas for future UK farming and environment policy. (April 2020)

Our rural landscape and its managers will face significant changes over the coming years, not least of which is the uncertainty around the scale and targeting of future farming and wildlife support, post Brexit. Challenges include the phased reduction of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS); which have supported agriculture for many decades. These payments will be reduced from existing levels today to zero by 2028. The publication of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and policy changes in the forthcoming Agriculture Bill suggests that future financial support for farming from government will be based on a clear demonstration of public benefit, described as “public money for public goods”.

In 2018 Defra announced that they were looking to trial and test new ideas for an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) between 2019-2021. These ELMS trials will help shape the replacement for existing farming and environmental support. Clinton Devon Estates was keen to influence thinking on this and we submitted a proposal to use parts of the Estate, the first based around the River Otter and the other at Beer, to co-design alongside stakeholders and farmers what a future ELMS might look like.  

With support from the Westcountry Rivers Trust and the Centre for Rural Policy Research, Exeter University with a broad array of civic and environmental partners including Otterton Parish Council, East Devon AONB, the Otter Valley Association, Budleigh Health Hub and the Environment Agency, we have now begun a two-year project to design bespoke schemes for these two local catchments. We hope this work will show how it is possible to support the local farming industry and economy whilst enhancing what is currently most cherished about our local landscapes and wildlife.

Key features of the trial include: ensuring management plans for individual farms compliment others in the catchment whilst supporting agricultural productivity and innovation; reducing environmental risk; maximising wildlife, supporting habitats and other ‘ecosystem services’; increasing local understanding and support for agriculture and farmers whilst adequately rewarding farmers for the many public benefits they provide.

With Spring upon us here is a seasonal update from across the Estate. (March 2020)

Clinton Farms

At the beginning of February, we welcomed Sam Briant-Evans as farms manager. Greg Gray has also been appointed as main tractor driver and both are settling well into their new roles in the team.

In drier weather we were able to get slurry out onto the grass leys and have started ploughing, in preparation for spring cropping at Kingston and Dotton farms. Grass has grown well in the mild weather, so we were able to turn some milking cows out at Otter Dairy last month, to utilise the grazing we have available.

At Ashtree farm, hedge laying took place. This long-term restoration project is part of ongoing hedgerow maintenance across the farms.

River Otter

The River Otter Beaver Trial draws to a close this month and the publication of the science and evidence report presents the biodiversity benefits, the impact dams have on flood risk, fish passage and water quality, the health and population growth of the beavers and documents people’s attitudes and perceptions during the five year trial. The report can be found at https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/what-we-do/our-projects/river-otter-beaver-trial

Funding has recently been approved to help with the delivery of the Lower Otter Restoration Project. The bid for this grant, worth ca. £8.5 million was led by Environment Agency partners who with the Estate and the Conservation Trust have been developing the initiative since 2014.

Although funding is in place, we still need to submit a detailed planning application. Without this we cannot proceed. Should planning be granted we would be in a position to begin work on the scheme from autumn 2020.  One of the many outputs would be the creation of 100 hectares of mudflat and saltmarsh as well as naturalising the lower river valley as far as possible. This will elevate the conservation value of the lower Otter Valley from regional to international significance and is one of the most exciting and ambitious habitat restoration schemes in the South West.

Pebblebed Heaths

Car park improvements and modifications were agreed last month, and work will commence soon to be completed in stages. Redistributing and upgrading parking across the site will improve safety and visitor experience whilst minimising wildlife disturbance, damage to trees or heritage features and antisocial behaviour.

Successful teamwork has enabled groups of volunteers to support the work of each other. The practical team cleared a number of Neolithic bowl barrows on Bicton and Woodbury commons, that members of the archaeological team had flagged as nearly disappearing amongst invasive vegetation. They also employed energetic raking skills to improve sites across the commons for our rare silver studded blue butterfly. This was much appreciated by our ecological monitoring team who were able to show us butterfly eggs overwintering nearby.

Kate Ponting, Countryside Learning Officer kate.ponting@clintondevon.com  01395 443 881

Update on the Lower Otter Restoration Project (February 2020)

In January, a significant milestone was achieved in the delivery of the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP). Planning approval was granted for the construction of a new cricket ground to the north of South Farm Cottages Budleigh Salterton. The long-term future of the cricket club’s current home at Ottermouth has been under threat due the impacts of flooding and poor drainage, with the club flooded as recently as December. The planning decision means that should the wider restoration project go ahead as planned, an important sporting, recreational and social focal point for the community will not be lost.

This restoration project is being developed by the Environment Agency and Clinton Devon Estates. It has broad and ambitious aims, attempting to attain more sustainable management of the River Otter, its estuary and its immediate surroundings in the face of a rapid climate changes and rising sea levels.  Key aims of the project include: maintaining and securing existing public footpaths; securing vehicle access to the residents and businesses at South Farm, along South Farm Road; reconnecting the river to its floodplain, allowing it to flood and drain naturally; stabilising the former domestic refuse tip to protect against future erosion; finding a more sustainable site for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club; increasing the area of rare inter-tidal habitat with significant biodiversity benefits, including for birdlife.  Details on the project can be found at www.lowerotterrestortionproject.co.uk

Although the planning decision on the cricket club’s relocation is very welcome, before LORP can proceed, planning approval is also required for the broader scheme. Detailed plans are being developed for submission to the planning authorities for consideration in the first half of this year. Prior to submission, some technical issues still need to be resolved. Most critical is ensuring that South West Water infrastructure is protected, including an important freshwater borehole south of Otterton. Detailed plans for the scheme will be shared with the public once these have been developed. This is unlikely to be before Easter.

January is also a very significant month, as together with an allied partner scheme in the Saâne Valley, Normandy, France, we will hear the outcome of a funding application to the Interreg VA Programme (a European Funding stream} to support some of the project delivery costs. The final delivery of the project, including the relocation of Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club, will depend on both us and our French partners attaining planning approval for the whole scheme and securing funding. Other funding partners include the Environment Agency and Clinton Devon Estates.

Sam Bridgewater, Head of Wildlife and Conservation sam.bridgewater@clintondevonestates

Historic woodland recovery started in Devon. (November 2019)

1st December marks the end of National Tree Week and many community groups have held events celebrating or doing practical and positive things for their local treescapes. 2019 also marked a very important anniversary for trees across the UK, as a hundred years ago, saw the creation of the Forestry Commission.

At the end of the First World War, the UK’s timber supply was much depleted. Britain’s forests had been in steady decline since the Middle Ages, but the additional strain of the war – especially the demands of trench warfare – left the nation’s woodlands in a sorry state. From a countryside that was once largely forested, just 5% of the landscape retained its tree cover and urgent action was required to address growing concerns. In 1918, the Acland Committee reported to then prime minister, David Lloyd George, that an organisation with state backing would be the most effective way of restoring and restocking the nation’s forests.

On 1 September 1919, the Forestry Act came into force, establishing the Forestry Commission (FC) and granting it responsibility to look after woods across England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The Commissioners held their first meeting on 7 December 1919. Immediately after business was concluded, the chairman Lord Lovat set off to his land holdings in Scotland to plant the first tree. However, fellow commissioner, Lord Clinton (who later became the Commission’s second chair), was equally determined and on returning to Devon, was met by foresters at Eggesford, who drove him into the woods to plant beech and larch saplings. Lord Lovat’s journey by overnight sleeper was a longer one and upon alighting from the train in Elgin to meet his foresters he also received a telegram from Lord Clinton, announcing the first trees had been planted the previous evening. Official records list rather tactfully, that trees were planted in both England and Scotland on 8 December 2019.

By Christmas 1919 the tide had turned, significantly changing for the better, the future of forestry in Britain. Woodland cover has risen from 5% to 10% in England and 13% across the UK. East Devon has 17% woodland cover. Although the initial driver for tree planting early last century was to provide a timber resource to support any future war efforts, strategic objectives have changed over time. In the 1990s policy focus moved from production forestry to the planting of native broadleaves for wildlife. In the following decade public recreation became increasingly important whilst in the last ten years the shift has refocused again, this time towards combating climate change and resilience to disease.  

In 2019 there is public outcry over the devastating impacts of global deforestation.  Whatever uncertainty we face as a nation, trees are once again rising up the political agenda as they have a significant role to play in combatting climate change. Growing trees sequesters carbon both in the branches, trunk and leaves and also in the forest soil. Using timber products above high carbon products such as steel, cement, reduces emissions and is a renewable resource.

Forestry Commision anniversary celebrations have taken place across the UK and closest to home will be marked by Lord Clinton planting trees close to those planted a hundred years ago by his great grandfather in Forestry Commision woodland at Flashdown in Eggesford Forest.

“British Forests; The Forestry Commission 1919-2019, Ian Gambles, Profile Editions 2019”

Wishing all readers of Otterton Website a peaceful Christmas and very happy New Year from everyone at Clinton Devon Estates.

July Update - Chances to learn on and about The Heaths (July 2019)

The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths have been shaped my man since prehistory, when turf cutting, burning and grazing helped turn the once densely wooded area into the open landscape we love today. ‘The commons’ are semi-natural and without continued management, this habitat can quickly revert to scrub and wildlife including species that are rarely found elsewhere would suffer.

Thousands of people visit the commons of the Pebblebed Heaths each day and public support is vital in protecting and managing this threatened environment.

Over the past few weeks, the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust (PHCT) have welcomed over 400 local primary pupils to spend a day out of the classroom learning about the history of the commons, its ecology and how the rangers use tools like machinery, controlled burns and grazing animals to help them manage the heath for special wildlife species. Groups were transported in a new bespoke covered trailer and resources were commissioned to support schoolteachers. Around 300 Post-16 students will also undertake biology and environmental science fieldwork this month.

Youngsters learn they have full and free access to the Pebblebed Heaths on foot and that horse riding and cycling by individuals is permitted by the landowner Clinton Devon Estates too. We hope they’ll also remember why there is need for responsible use of this special and shared space. Overnight camping, fires and barbecues are not allowed nor is metal detecting or the flying of drones.

Mountain bikers are welcome if they don’t modify trails and tracks. Dog walkers should keep canine friends close by and always pick up, all of which helps makes the heaths a safer and pleasanter place for everyone.

Our Friends of the Common group ensures the PHCT continues to develop with public support.

Free to join, with members of all ages who are regularly updated and given the opportunity to influence the future direction of the Trust and its activities. Join at: www.pebblebedheaths.org.uk

Finally whatever your age if you’re keen to discover more about the Pebblebeds then look out for Heath Week www.heathweek.org between 28 July and 3 August. Each day reflects a different aspect of the Heath, from wildlife to recreation, history to volunteering and getting involved. Organised by PHCT, RSPB, DWT and the countryside team at EDDC with support from businesses, wildlife charities and local organisations promises over 25 events during the week to celebrate everything that is special about the heaths.

June Round Up (June 2019)

Forestry

Strength in the timber market continues and dry conditions meant harvesting could continue throughout the winter. However good weather also meant more pests, resulting in the earliest requirement to apply insecticide for pine beetle; six weeks earlier than any previous year!

In North Devon, roadside and farm tree inspections have been completed, moving onto those at residential properties to bring these trees into our routine inspection programme.

At Leaford Plantation, outside Knowle, problems were encountered recently with dog walkers who put themselves in danger by ignoring safety signage by entering an active harvesting site. Safety signs indicating the temporary closure of permissive access serve an important purpose and we ask that everyone follows their instruction and direction.

Bicton Arena

A successful neighbours forum took place recently where we were heartened that so many local residents felt reassured that we are committed to listening and working to find solutions to issues ease heavy traffic and noise from tannoy announcements at large events.

The April International Horse Trials which fell over the sunny Easter weekend drew a maximum number of competitors and a 50% increase in spectators. Last month saw the British Show Jumping Spectacular followed by a Pony Club Tetrathlon event during half term. The only large event in June is the:     British Show Jumping Pony Premier 21st – 23rd June

Arrivals Thursday 20th June (including large lorries)

Local competitors will be travelling in daily

Most departures will be on Sunday 23rd June

Clinton Farm Partnership

Spring calving, which takes place at Dalditch Farm, will be completed by the middle of the month and all spring crops have been drilled and had slurry applied. Recent improvements on the farm include 5500 metres of new fencing, water troughs and cattle tracks, which makes moving cattle to new grazing areas more straightforward and reduces staff time.

The opportunity to enjoy local produce whilst reducing both food miles and single use plastic comes a step closer next month as a direct sale vending machine will be installed at Otterton Mill, selling pasteurised organic milk from the Clinton herd direct to local people.

Property and Land

The Estate has worked with the Parish Council is at Beer and East Budleigh to enable Devon Air Ambulance to have night landing sites in each village. Sales at both King Alfred‘s Way and Plumb Park are going well and planning permission was granted to develop a barn in East Budleigh and at Short Furlong in Beer. Work is ongoing to bring all residential and commercial properties up to higher energy standards, an EPC rating of E or above. Over 100 allotment holders across the Estate were sent wildlife gardening leaflets and wildflower seeds and encouraged to plant a small area for pollinating insects which in turn provide food for bats and other species that feed on them.

Pebblebed Heaths

Recent bird monitoring suggests our Dartford warbler numbers (60 pairs) may have recovered better than hoped after the late snow of 2018 caused the population to drop from 100 to 30 pairs. Last year’s long hot summer will have helped, as the birds could raise multiple broods.

We have had a good response to a request to report adder sightings with both females and males being spotted across the heaths. A grid reference and a photo would be brilliant if you are lucky to spot one when walking on the commons and will help us with our understanding of these special reptiles and how they use the heaths at different times of the year.

Countryside Learning

Look out for new signage on gates across the home farm, with details about the crops that are growing and other useful information. Over 300 pupils from local primaries will spend a day on the farm this month learning about milk production, the importance of soil and the vital role pollinators play. Primary and secondary schools will also spend time learning on the heaths this summer. To make the most of their time with us we are pleased to have new educational resources for schools to use before, during and after their visits and a bespoke trailer to transport groups across the site more easily.