August Update

Summer term is always a busy time for educational visits, as schools make the most of the warmer weather to get out of the classroom and into the countryside. After covid enforced restrictions, it has never felt more important to get youngsters outside and engaged in the world around them.

Following farm visits in May, twelve schools, including Otterton Primary brought creative displays to Bicton Arena, last month to showcase what the pupils had learned and to compete for the Kingfisher Award. This educational farm initiative helps children explore the connections between food, arming and wildlife. Farmers and long-time supporters of Kingfisher, John and Audrey Whetman plus Cllr. Jess Bailey, county councillor for the Otter Valley had the difficult task of judging the competition as the standard of entries was really exceptional. All participating schools received book prizes. Mill Water Special school, who were taking part for the first time, were awarded highly commended, with Littleham Primary the runners-up and Woodbury Salterton announced the overall winners.

The summer term has also brought many hundreds of pupils to learn about the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP). Local walkers may have come across classes of students from both primary schools and colleges plus, in the evenings, groups of Scouts and Guides. Since the spring 1700+ youngsters have seen first-hand how coastal areas can adapt to climate change while the aspects of life in the valley, that people value are maintained. Pupils learned how the former landfill will be protected from erosion and about the importance of wetland habitats which, as well as being important spaces some special wildlife also have enormous potential to lock up carbon dioxide.

It hasn’t just been youngsters, with many adult groups visiting to learn more too. The project team have welcomed visits from professional bodies, local interest and community groups. Last month the organisations involved in the BasseSaane project, at the LORPs sister site in Normandy made the journey to the UK, to see how the scheme on the Lower Otter is progressing. Together, under the project Promoting Adaptations to Changing Coasts (PACCo) these two pilot sites are working to produce guidance which could support other coastal communities, on either side of the channel. Lessons learned could help up to 70 other estuaries make similar early adaptations to combat the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.

As the work on the ground continues there is much to see across the whole project area. Do take a walk by the estuary to see the progress. Despite the construction activity it is now easy to imagine the open views across the new wetland that will be enjoyed in less than a year when the tides and peace returns to the lower valley. Alternatively, view the changing landscape from above in monthly drone footage which can be seen at http://www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk/

Remember, do not leave vehicles on South farm Road, in passing places or on roadside beyond White Bridge at any time.  Farm access with large machines is still needed during evenings and weekends and any obstruction impacts the businesses and residents nearby and poses a risk should there be an emergency. We thank those who continue to be considerate and find alternative places to park.

May Update (23rd April 2022)

Not just telling them about the world but showing them…

Since February, our Countryside Learning Officer, Kate has worked with 750 students from local schools to help them understand why wetland habitats are so important and schemes such as the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) are needed now. Pupils between 4-16 were able to give their thoughts and asked questions about the project. Before Easter it was warm enough (or very nearly!) to start hosting groups on-site enabling youngsters to see the ongoing construction and understand the changes first hand. In the summer term, as well as walks with more schools, the light evenings will allow Scouts and Guide groups to visit and a there will be a programme of walks and events for adults too.

A map has been designed to explain the changes that will take place as the Lower Otter Restoration Project develops and combat some of the misconceptions. Find hard copies at local information points or view at the LORP website http://www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk/. Here you can also see drone footage, which make interesting viewing allowing a bird’s eye view showing the progress not always visible from the footpaths.

A two-year exhibition featuring the Lower Otter Restoration Project has opened at the Fairlynch Museum in Budleigh Salterton. Recognising that LORP is the most significant event to have taken place in the Otter Valley for 200 years the display will also provide a permanent record of the environmental changes for future generations. As well as the history of the project, the wildlife and archaeology of the valley, there is information about the aims of the project, about climate change and objections to the scheme. The display includes historic documents, the changes captured by a local artist and a specially commissioned film featuring local people.

At the end of the month, over 360 children will visit Stantyway Farm, Otterton as part of the Kingfisher Award Scheme, which connects children to food, farming and wildlife. The pupils will explore food from arable crops, take a farm walk and learn about the farmland wildlife including Cirl buntings and hares. After their time on the farm, the classes from 12 local schools will complete project work. and bring to display and compete for prizes and an overall winner of the Kingfisher trophy. Thanks to Sam and Nell Walker for hosting and the team of volunteers, who make it possible. The very best of luck to Drake’s Primary and Mill Water Special School who will both take part in the competition this year.

New farm gate signs will be out across Clinton Farms by the end of May. These explain to passers-by, what might be growing in the field or give facts about our dairy herd and milk production. Along with signs along the river and estuary paths these politely remind everyone about the importance of following the Countryside Code and encourage walkers to stay on rights-of-way to protect crops, farm animals and wildlife, keeping everything happy and healthy. If a footpath crosses a field, please stick to the path and if your dog can’t do the same, make sure it is on a lead. Doing this and picking up after your dog is the best way to prevent your dog passing on diseases to local farm animals.

Some parasites present in dog waste can be passed to livestock if left on grazing land. Dog walkers and owners can help minimise the risk of spreading diseases by not allowing pets to foul agricultural land. There is sometimes a misunderstanding that it is somehow less important to pick up in the countryside. Often the parasites cause no symptoms in dogs, but diseases such as neosporosis can be transmitted through infected dog waste and seriously affects cattle, causing abortion and death. It is a legal requirement for dog owners to pick-up and remove dog waste and not doing so is not only lazy but puts farm livestock at risk.

March Update (11th Feb 2022)

The work of Clinton Devon Estates in East Devon, reached a national audience recently, after featuring in an episode of BBC Countryfile. The weather during filming was particularly good, setting off the local landscape to its best. A number of staff and tenants featured, explaining their day-to-day work, and showcasing projects for the future as part of the Estates ongoing stewardship of the Otter Valley and the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. The episode is available to watch on BBC iPlayer

Local farms in the area may have sheep, young cattle or dairy cows grazing out of doors throughout the warmer months. In all countryside areas check you are on a permissible route and following the Countryside Code at all times. Please help keep animals safe and healthy by not exercising dogs in farm fields and if you are out with a dog on the commons, ensure they always remain with you on the tracks as you’ll be actively protecting birds that nest on the ground and in the heather. Picking up after your dog is a legal requirement in all public spaces including footpaths, farm tracks, heathland and woods, there are no exceptions.

Long awaited car park improvements began at Four Firs Car Park on Woodbury Common and Joney’s Cross Car Park on Hawkerland last month. Both these areas will be closed to the public for essential works to improve visitor access. Work is expected to continue through to the end of March. During this time, visitors are asked to use the other car parking locations provided across the heaths but not to block access or passing places. Work will also take place at roadside parking areas at Stowford (Colaton Raleigh Common) and Frying Pans (Bicton Common), during this period as well. We would like to thank everyone for their patience while these car parks are closed. We have been very much looking forward to getting this work underway and are pleased that we will all be able to benefit from this first round of refurbishment work by the spring.

Recent refurbishment by the MOD means the grenade range on Colaton Raleigh Common came back into active service last month too. Live training can take place up to eight days per month on weekdays, between 10am and 3pm only. While in the range is in use, red flags mark the boundary of the out of bounds area, this area is shown on OS maps and on signs on site where tracks cross into this area. If you want to check firing dates before you visit, this information is available on the GOV.UK website and usually updated by the 20th of each month.

Find out more at www.clintondevon.com  or www.pebblebedheaths.org and regular updates are also available through our social media pages.

Kate Ponting, Countryside Learning Officer kate.ponting@clintondevon.com    01395 433881

Christmas Update (7th Dec 2021)

2022 is set to be another busy and successful year for the Estate, delivering today what is right for tomorrow through a number of projects locally as well as the ‘business as usual’ aspects for our staff involved in land and property management, woodland and renewable energy, conservation and our farming operation.

We aim to respond to enquiries about any aspect of our work in a timely manner but would like to take this opportunity to explain the most useful channels. Using the contact form at www.clintondevon.com/contact/ or emailing mail@clintondevon.com is the most effective method of communication and will mean your query is quickly directed to the most appropriate person, as many staff work away from the office.  Should your enquiry require an urgent response, please call the Estate Office on 01395 443 881 where the team will be happy to take your call. We would like to request that staff members are not called or messaged on their mobile phones about Estate business in the first instance, unless the matter is an emergency.

We are pleased to welcome several new members to the team. At the Estate Office Sarah Lloyd joins as Property and Land Administrator and Jola Kawalek as Administrative Assistant in the Business Support Team. Jack Howard is on a Rural Estate and Land Management placement from Harper Adams University until next summer and Georgie Armstrong joins as General Farm Worker, both supporting the Clinton Farms team. From everyone at Clinton Devon Estates, we wish all readers a very happy and healthy New Year.

Explore nature creatively this winter at Harpford Woods, Sidmouth (Dec 2021)

Clinton Devon Estates’ forestry stewardship in East Devon includes a commitment to provide public access, wherever possible, alongside the production of sustainable timber.

Eight new wooden Creative Nature Boxes have been installed in Harpford Woods, an ancient woodland site, near Sidmouth. Each box contains a different creative prompt designed to encourage people to enjoy nature in new ways. These include calming activities like forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) and meditation, contemplative suggestions such as writing a Haiku poem and ‘thoughts for the future’ to child-friendly activities like ‘make a nature bracelet’ and ways to make a linear walking map.

The Creative Nature Boxes were developed from a successful pilot project 'Art on the East Devon Way' led by Thelma Hulbert Gallery with East Devon AONB Partnership and Clinton Devon Estates in 2017, where artist Lizzy Humber produced several engaging story jars which were hidden in the woods. These were left out and during lockdown local people left messages of hope in the story jars, so it will be interesting to see what will come out of people's interactions with this new and more permanent installation in the future.

The boxes encourage community feedback and suggestions and will house further new activities over the coming months, as Double Elephant Print Workshop and the East Devon AONB Partnership continue to work with local schools and community groups through a new lottery grant, Places Called Home, funded by IKEA UK and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Be inspired by the ideas inside each box and have fun looking for them all. Don't forget to share photos/comments/ideas and tag THG (@thelmahulbergallery). There isn’t a route to follow but the boxes are designed to be easily found from main routes without a map. Harpford Woods is easily accessible from the East Devon Way. Alternatively for a shorter walk, car parking is available in Harpford village or just off the A3052: Google Maps Plus code: PP5H+XW Sidmouth / Ordnance Survey grid ref: SY 1051 9066

LORP update December 2021

Has LORP made the flooding worse?  The flooding in the lower Otter valley this October was a dramatic example of what will happen increasingly as our climate changes. The river rose quickly to levels higher than they have been here in Budleigh for over eight years; levels rose quickly in surrounding valleys too. This flood event was an entirely natural phenomenon and, importantly, was not caused or exacerbated by the LORP works. On this occasion the water took longer to disperse through the trunk drain and out to sea, as there were two flood events in quick succession. Once the project is complete, the current embankment will no longer trap the flood waters behind it and the flood waters will naturally drain more quickly.

The contractors undertook an investigation to learn from the event and to understand why the construction plant was not moved ahead of the flooding. They have made improvements to ensure this does not happen again at LORP or any other sites, including reviewing triggers and adopting a fully automated warning system that is linked to river levels.

The outfalls were checked for debris regularly by the site team but remained clear and as soon as the floodwater started to subside the equipment and vehicles were moved. All vehicles had sealed fuel units running biodiesel and were also bunded until it was safe to retrieve them. Most machines could be restarted and driven out of the floodwaters when water levels allowed. South Farm Road was opened and is being regularly swept clear for residents and access to South Farm businesses as usual.

Environment Agency pollution staff closely monitored the site clear up to ensure that the river has not been adversely affected. The programme of works is being revised following the flooding, recovery and clean-up. Site noticeboards and the website will be kept up to date with the latest timetable.

This aerial image shows the trapped water behind the embankment unable to drain away quickly. The LORP will reconnect the floodplain and the river once again so that water in the flood plain after heavy rainfall events (on the western side of the embankment) will have an effective exit.

The Lower Otter Restoration is a very complex project in a very dynamic environment. As the year draws to a close it is amazing to consider how much has been accomplished since last December. In the New Year the project partners look forward to site visits and other planned events to help bring the project to life for local people and facilitate educational visits for students of all ages.

Lower Otter Restoration Project update. (Sept. 2021)

A significant milestone has been reached in the Lower Otter Restoration Project as from 1 September preparations for the construction of the new road and excavations for the creek network will begin.

Parking on South Farm Road is now unavailable, although businesses at South Farm Court remain open as usual. To enable machinery, cars, delivery lorries and agricultural vehicles to use this route safely, please choose alternative parking arrangements for the duration of the works, including Lime Kiln car park (1km to the south) which enables straightforward level access to the reserve for those unable to walk far. Anyone leaving vehicles on the road edge on either side of the bridge or in passing places is very likely to cause an obstruction. Towards the end of the project in 2023 visitors will be able to use new parking, more appropriately sited for the benefit of wildlife and enjoyment of this special site.

The area south of South Farm Cottages, on the bend, is the main compound where much of the vehicles and material for the construction phase will be stored, it also has a welfare unit for staff. At the end of the project this area will be returned to fields. North of the cottages (and accessed from East Budleigh Road) is another work site, where machines are busy preparing the ground. This will be the new, and flood free home, for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club. The playing surfaces have been created providing level surfaces for both a senior and junior pitch and the next steps will see drainage and seeding.

Last month, 419 orchids (mainy Southern marsh with some hybrids) were moved from the valley to a temporary home, with similar habitat and orchids present, near East Budleigh. The Friends of the Commons and members of the Hardy Orchid Society dug up and teased the rhizomes from the turf, retaining the part with the new shoots which were then transferred and replanted.

Hopefully these will do well until such time as there is suitable habitat established within the project area. In addition, the flowering spikes attached to this season’s corms were retained and the seed will be dried and stored to repopulate wet grassland in the valley in the future. Populations of notable sedge species will also be conserved to repopulate these areas in the future.

A Liaison Group has been established to provide effective and timely two-way links during the delivery phase, enabling the local community, specialist groups and wider public to be knowledgeable and well connected to the LORP and the team delivering it. A broad membership including county, district and town/village councillors, residents’ groups or representatives, local businesses and other organisations will meet regularly. Meeting notes and actions will be shared on the LORP website. http://www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk/ and additional members are welcome who can share updates and information with their communities and the wider public and provide a conduit between local residents and the project team, enabling productive dialogue and feedback.

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.

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.