Some of the 23 new ponds and (in the foreground) planted trees
This approach is already reaping natural rewards. Broad-bodied chasers were patrolling the ponds in numbers, females ovipositing. Freshly emerged common darters, Emperor dragonflies and Azure damselflies were also active. Above them, a swift, several house martins and swallows greedily fed on insects. This is a very uncommon sight today, especially in the agricultural heartlands of Devon where freshwater tends to be confined to small overgrown ponds or streams.
Ragged robin in one of the more species-rich meadows
We must thank the previous owner Mr Fallond who farmed the land sympathetically. He came through the harrowing period of Foot & Mouth when he lost all his cows. Sheep were retained. Some meadows were managed for hay, others reseeded with ryegrass, but all of the hedges were allowed to grow out and tall. This was no doubt why we could enjoy the song of two Garden warblers on our visit, and at least ten Willow warblers, both species that have declined dramatically in the south. The Culm measure clay soils are naturally wet and unworkable in the winter, drought prone in summer. This is not cereal country and yet we could see freshly sown ground in the neighbouring field.
Will Bond from Alaska Ecological Contracting was brought in with his specialist kit to snap trees, expose rootballs and do the bulk of the pond excavation (autumn 2020). Will and Derek supervised the contouring of the ponds which overall has worked very well. A few look like bomb craters, with rather steep sides, but the majority, as evidenced by the abundance of dragonflies, have gently undulating slopes. Eti described a wading bird she had seen, a green sandpiper probably.
The intention was to deer fence the whole 178 acres but following an objection from the neighbour, 60 acres was fenced ready for the introduction of beavers. In December 2020, a family lodge on the Tay in Scotland was destroyed. The female died, but the male and three kits were brought south, the male and two of the kits being introduced to their new home before the year end. Sadly, the male then also died. A new female was released into the enclosure and successfully mated with one of the male kits. In 2021, forty Water voles were also released in the enclosure. It is not known how they are faring.
The small lake where the beavers have been released
Dorette and two of her neighbours have come together to form Rewilding Britain’s first farm cluster project. Val has 198 acres. The Green family had farmed the land since 1965 and with her husband, Val decided in 1995 to create a woodland. She is now rewilding the woodland that contains two higher tier Culm grass moors. She has also made 12 ponds near to Dorette’s. Olly has 60 acres of meadows and hedges along the Sturcombe River flowing into the Little Dart. He farms regeneratively. Together, the 336 acres sit across two Culm ‘moors’. On the first edition Ordnance Survey maps of the area at https://maps.nls.uk/, you can clearly see them labelled as West Yeo Moor and Newhouse Moor.
Felled conifers deliberately stacked to prevent deer gaining access to seedling trees
Grazing at present is limited to just two free-ranging Tamworth pigs; Dorette wants to give the land “a pulse” of six years without grazing. Two ponies may be introduced soon and thereafter cattle might be possible. Neighbour Olly has forty Ruby Red Devon cattle, but movement is problematical due to TB. This is clearly an area that requires some thought.
Eight thousand trees have been planted, and new hedgerows. All of this effort is being rewarded with increasing numbers and diversity of wildlife. A cuckoo has arrived this year and sat on a distant tree enjoying a large caterpillar, the diet they need to thrive. A tree pipit parachuted from a mature hedgerow singing its ‘see-er, see-er’ song flight. Reed bunting and Spotted flycatcher also sang away, whilst a Redpoll passed overhead. Skylark have increased from one to twenty pairs. Stonechats, kestrel and common lizards are newly arrived too.
In conclusion, ‘a pulse of wildlife’ is exactly what Dorette and Eti have achieved in remarkably short a timeframe. It will be thrilling to return to witness further progress.
A shallow new pond in a wet meadow
Simon Bates -Devon Rewilding Network
Photographs by Simon Bates (please request permission to use)
Ambios is working with Rewilding Britain to administer the Devon Rewilding Network, a network of people based in Devon who are interested in, or taking action to rewild land in our beautiful county.
For just £10 a year you can join the network and gain access to in-person visits to rewilding sites across Devon and a whole host of other rewilding resources and networking opportunities.
Visit https://www.ambios.net/devon-rewilding-network/ to find out more and join the network.