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East Devon Pebblebed Heaths – April update

  • by JW

The Friends of the Commons newsletter: habitat management, Lower Otter Restoration Project, guided walks, Pebblebed Heaths National Nature Reserve news…



As winter turns to spring…
The change in seasons marks the end of the winter work period. During the colder months our rangers, contractors and volunteers have been busy working across the heaths to carry out the habitat management which is key to caring for the open heathland landscape and the wildlife it supports.

This winter as well as clearing tree regeneration that was moving on to the open heath, the rangers also carried out bare ground creation by scraping away vegetation to create patches of new young habitat which is particularly valuable for insects such as the silver-studded blue butterfly.

The weather was also on our side in the new year which allowed the rangers to carry out controlled burning, known as swailing. This traditional heathland management technique helps achieve more diversity in the  heathland, creating a patchwork of habitats of different age and development.

As we move into springtime, the targeted habitat management stops for the summer to allow wildlife to breed undisturbed. Our attention will switch to the care of the livestock which keep the vegetation in check for us during the summer months. Ten Dartmoor ponies have already arrived on Hawkerland common, with more cattle and ponies set to join them across the grazed areas shortly. Read more about grazing and our other management tools here.

📷 © Nick de Cent 2022

It’s that wonderful time of year when some of our resident wildlife seems a little less elusive and so easier to spot.  The Dartford warbler, a rare and highly protected bird  favours heathland but unlike most warblers which migrate in winter, this species lives on our reserve year-round. This special species is most visible in springtime when males can be seen and heard, defending their territory, from the top of gorse bushes.

These birds have made a fantastic recovery since poor weather in spring 2018 decimated their numbers across the Pebblebed Heaths. With the breeding season in full swing our team are already out and about too, surveying all the suitable habitat across the heaths to see how the population is fairing. Initial signs are promising, these birds continue to thrive, with good numbers having survived the winter and setting up breeding territories this spring.  Read more about Dartford warblers on the Pebblebed Heaths

Car park improvement progress.
We are pleased to see people making use of Joney’s Cross (pictured) and Four Firs car parks which recently reopened following refurbishment work. The contractors returned this week to finish the surfacing in the entrance to Four Firs. Improvements have also been carried out at Stowford and the roadside parking area near Frying Pans.

Other work will continue over the next few weeks to finish installing the outstanding elements such as barriers, dog waste bins and signs etc. Work on these areas will be finished before we move on to work on the next phase which will include Warren, Woodbury Castle and Estuary View later this year.

Do let us know what you think of the work so far. Estuary education
Kate has been working in schools since February, helping local primary and secondary schools  understand why wetland habitats are so important and schemes such as the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) are needed now.

In the last few weeks it has been warm enough (or very nearly!) to host groups on site enabling youngsters to see the ongoing construction and understand the changes first hand. The group pictured were very positive about the outcomes of LORP but several children had further questions before they were 100% convinced…just like some adults.

Whatever the age, answering questions about this complex project honestly is very  important.  Each pupil we work with has the opportunity to give feedback on a postcard, about what they think of the LORP  and to ask the project team a question.

A letter with the answers is sent back to school for the students to read. We hope to display some of the brilliant feedback and questions we’ve received with answers in the bird hide over the next few weeks.

With more schools booked for next term and longer evenings allowing scouting and guiding groups to visit too, Kate will have a busy summer!


Guided walks to see and hear more about the Lower Otter Restoration. 
Over the next few months we will deliver a number of site visits and activities linked to the Lower Otter Restoration Project. The Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust are pleased to offer two walks next month exclusively for the Friends of the Commons. Join Sam Bridgewater and Kendal Archer on Thursday 12 May (am) or Tuesday 17 May (evening) for a guided walk of the site to hear more about this exciting project which will create 55ha of new intertidal nature reserve, while making the valley more robust in the face of climate change.

The majority of the route is on level public footpaths and the total distance will be approximately 3 km with frequent stops and time for questions. Please contact us if you require more information regarding accessibility. No dogs on this walk please. Meet on grassed area to the north of Lime Kiln car park. To read more about the project please visit the website: The Lower Otter Restoration Project is part of the wider Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts (PACCo) project. This is a cross-border initiative financially supported by the Interreg VA France (Channel) England programme. You can read more about PACCo here: Book a place on either of the estuary walks here. New Wildlife Wardens This spring, two new Wildlife Wardens working for South East Devon Habitat Regulations Partnership will be patrolling the heaths.

We welcome Trudi and Caius who will be working to help visitors understand more about what makes the areas they cover so incredibly special. They will be getting out and about engaging with as many people as possible to help promote respect and understanding of the Pebblebeds and make a huge difference to positive visitor behaviour. They will be on the heaths most weeks – if you see them, please do say hello. 

To find out more about their work visit Input caption text here. Use the block’s Settings tab to change the caption position and set other styles.
Welcome to all new Friends of the Commons…
The team have been at a few public events lately to showcase both Pebblebed Heaths National Nature Reserve and Otter Estuary and have enjoyed talking to people and signing up a number of new Friends. If you are receiving this update for the first time then you’ve recently been added to our mailing list and we are delighted to welcome you.

We hope you enjoy reading our news in this and future updates and might want to get involved at some point, if you live locally. If there is anything else we can explain or help you with at any point, please just get in touch.. We send seasonal newsletter and information updates but you may like to follow us on Facebook or Instagram for more regular newsfeeds. Our rangers are on site every day and wherever possible all our team will make time to chat or answer questions.

The Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust manage the core area of the Pebblebed Heaths, Mutter’s Moor and the Otter Estuary for the landowner Clinton Devon Estates. Whatever your interest we have a number of ways of getting involved to enhance your enjoyment of the heaths. The return to ‘normal’ will see more events on offer to learn out about the heathland ecology, archaeology and cultural history, as well as how it is managed with volunteering options for those who like to be hands-on or give something back practically. Waggy Walks
Join Julie from Devon Loves Dogs and Kim, Pebblebed Heaths Site Manager for a social, guided dog walk across the heaths. Come and learn a little more about the area whilst the dogs enjoy the sights and sniffs!
The next walks scheduled include Thursday 14 April (am), Thursday 26 May (am), Thursday 16 June (evening). For more information and to book a place, visit News & Events | Devon Loves Dogs Copyright © 2022 Clinton Devon Estates, All rights reserved.

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