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I’m Mael, a long-term volunteer at Ambios (June 2022 – March 2023). My placement has come to an end, but I wanted to reflect on my experience, especially in getting involved in a wetland restoration project at the farm. I am currently on a year out of university, getting some experience between my second and third year. I am studying environmental science and outdoor education – I love this combination as it allows me to explore the natural world, and different ways of engaging audiences with it.

As part of my time with Ambios, I was invited to take part in a personal project. I am interested in rivers and wanted to look at fish surveys on the Dart, but due to several constraints, I was encouraged to look more closely at the freshwater stream at Lower Sharpham Farm. This stream bisects the farm and is a linear feature that channels water that falls in the surrounding farmland catchment out to the main river Dart via the Sharpham Marsh. The stream came to attention a few years ago, when the bridge connecting Totnes with Ashprington (national cycle network, major public footpath artery) washed away under flood conditions. The bridge was restored as part of Rewilding and the Sharpham Parkland Restoration, but little attention was placed upstream, to avoid it happening again.

I was asked to look at the management plan proposals for the valley, to see what could be done to mitigate flooding caused by climate change, at the same time create valuable, missing freshwater wildlife habitats. My role was to evaluate the plan, re-prioritize and focus its objectives, and carry out some fieldwork, especially mapping, to see the extent of the ponds we are hoping to create. As part of the flood mitigation plan, two historic ponds are to be reinstated, a new pond created, a wet woodland rewilded and some wetland meadow habitat expanded at the source of the tributary. The new large pond will need an embankment to be excavated. The historic pond in the conservation area has 3.5 of the surrounding walls ready to go (it only needs the capping of the outflow let). Both ponds needed small trees inside the flooding zone to be removed for diggers entry to the site.  Their branches were piled in wildlife heaps.

This project provided me with the opportunity to use QGIS software and GPS handheld devices to calculate the area of the pond. A surveying level was used to find out what level the pond would fill to. Using programming software and specialised surveying equipment, to overcome challenges in practical projects was great to experience. Writing a management plan for the future development of the valley project also offered insight into the variety of skills needed in the conservation sector. Also explaining the processes needed to accomplish the vision for the stream, clarified in my mind what needed to be done. I also appreciate the feedback I received after I shared my article. I’m excited about the survey opportunities that may arise from creating these new wetland habitats, and the wider impact that will have on the rest of the rewilding project. Whether that be providing a corridor for wildfowl species to spread, becoming a breeding ground for more dragonflies, amphibians, and fish, or providing a wetland habitat for more invertebrate species and flora.

The next steps are to submit the edited management plan. The valley project will be a big project that future trainees could join in on. Diggers need to be booked in and briefed on what to do and how, willow cops that have grown within the historic pond will need to be removed and neutral regeneration will be encouraged, enhanced with some wet tree planting and groundworks to allow water ingress. A winch will be needed to pull down falling willow trees and fence lines removed, to blur the separation between wet woodland and pasture. Many other tasks need to be completed for the project to be successful, but once complete visitors to Lower Sharpham Farm will have access to the improved biodiversity via bird hides and walking decks.

✍ Mael Jegu – Ambios long-term volunteer (June 2022 – March 2023)

Google Earth map showing the stream (blue) passing through the valley on Lower Sharpham Farm. The yellow and orange areas represent proposed potential pond, wet pasture creation, habitat enhancement and historic landscape restoration (map created by Ambios alumni Rob Hinchley).

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