Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Ponies used to help restore rare grassland habitat at Bridgelea

Four hardy moorland ponies have this month been brought in to graze a rare Culm grassland site in central Devon as part of Devon Wildlife Trust's Working Wetlands project. The 2.5 hectare site at Bridgelea near Sampford Courtenay had been in need of attention for several years. The Working Wetlands project awarded the landowners a grant to carry out scrub clearance and install stockproof fencing which has enabled the re-introduction of grazing. The four ponies are part of the Devon Wildlife Trust's Grazing Links scheme, an initiative which brings people with livestock together with landowners in need of grazing for their holdings. It is hoped that the ponies will help to open up the habitat and allow a broad range of wild flower species to become more widely established across the site. This increase in the range of wild flowers will benefit a host of insects, which in turn will support healthy populations of birds and small mammals. This initiative was only made possible by the generous funding of Devon Waste Management. Their support has enabled the Working Wetlands project to set up and administer a small grant award initiative which offers landowners financial support to carry out capital works on wildlife-rich sites in the Culm Measures. Devon Wildlife Trust's Mike Symes oversaw the introduction of grazing and said: "Bridgelea is a great site but its value for wildlife was being lost due to scrub encroachment and a lack of grazing. Now, as a result of the funding provided by Devon Waste Management, the important Culm grassland habitat will be restored through improved, sympathetic land management." Bob and Joy Tucker, the landowners at Bridgelea, added: "When we moved here we knew that the land was in need of some careful management, but we didn't know where to start. Devon Wildlife Trust has enabled us to embark on this exciting project and we are really looking forward to seeing the field transformed year by year, allowing  the more delicate and vulnerable species that could not compete with the rushes to  establish themselves."
Ponies at Bridgelea photo copyright Devon Wildlife Trust 
Working Wetlands is a seven year landscape scale project working across 65,000 hectares of the Culm Natural Area. It has been supported by South West Water, Tubney Charitable Trust, The Environment Agency, Devon County Council, Devon Waste Management, GrantScape and Natural England.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Devon Reptile & Amphibian Group calls for sightings of rare newt!

Although frogs and newts are familiar from ponds and gardens, globally amphibians are one of the most threatened creatures on earth. In order to help conserve one of the UK's rarest amphibians the Devon Reptile and Amphibian Group, with funding from the Devon Biodiversity Partnership and help from the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, has recently set up a Great Crested Newt Project. As part of this they are looking for help in locating records of the rare and protected Great Crested Newt, which is currently only known to exist in a few ponds in the county. Great Crested Newts are much larger (up to 17cm long) than the small newts (around 10cm long) more commonly found in our ponds. The body is dark brown to black in colour with a warty appearance. Male Great Crested Newts can be identified by the jagged crest running along their back. Newts have a similar life cycle to frogs and toads, hibernating through the winter months and returning to breed in ponds in the spring. Nicky Green, Chair of the Devon Reptile and Amphibian Group (DRAG) said: 'The Great Crested Newt is thought to be virtually extinct in Devon. However, there have been new recorded sightings across the county, which suggest that there are more of them out there than previously thought. In order to help conserve this rare and fascinating species we need as many records of sightings as possible'. If you think you may have seen Great Crested Newts in your pond please contact or 01626 834422 with the location, post code and date of the sighting. A Great Crested Newt identification and conservation pack is available for respondents.

Photo copyright James Grundy: (All rights reserved)
About Devon Reptile & Amphibian Group
DRAG is the county’s amphibian and reptile voluntary body, with more than 100 members. The group aims to promote the conservation of amphibians and reptiles and their habitats in the county. DRAG record, monitor and survey amphibians and reptiles in Devon.The Great Crested Newt Project has been funded by the Devon Biodiversity Partnership and the Devon Biodiversity Record Centre. The project aims to increase our knowledge of the distribution of Great Crested Newts in the county so they are better able to promote their conservation and ensure they are not adversely affected by development activities.The Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) is Britain’s largest and most threatened newt. The body is dark brown to black in colour with a warty appearance. It has a bright orange belly with black markings.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Peppercombe Chronicles - Brighter days and babbling brooks

26th February. The sun has come out at last. The recent heavy rainfall has resulted in the formation of many rivulets forging channels as they travel down the valley to the sea. The surplus water runs off the upper meadows on both sides of the valley and the two main streams merge just under the bridge at the Coastguard cottages. Mini babbling brooks are also created alongside the path all the way down occasionally pooling where leaves have blocked the way. The odd bird chirps but the main action today seems to be the hundreds of starlings roosting along the electricity wires on the A39 at Horns Cross.  Down by Peppercombe Meadows two buzzards are battling above the coastpath. Although Clovelly is visible across Bideford Bay, Lundy is not. Spring is breaking now in earnest and the first spikes of the ransoms are pushing through on the banks beside the track which, sadly, are still being eroded. Soon Peppercombe will take on a yellow glow when carpeted by flowering primroses, lesser celandine, daffodils and lofty Alexanders. As February draws to a close the early morning frost has returned, so it seems Spring is not quite here yet!. The starlings are a regular sight now swirling aloft like a cloud then settling on the hedgerows around the field.
Lundy high, sign of dry
Lundy plain, sign of rain
Lundy low, sign of snow

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

North Devon otter video makes a splash at film festival!

A film capturing wild otters in their natural environment shot by Devon Wildlife Trust's Senior Nature Reserves Officer Gary Pilkington has been shortlisted for an award. Gary managed to film the family of otters one day when out working on Marsland Nature Reserve near Hartland. The footage which has already had thousands of views on You Tube was submitted to the Borderlines Film Festival at the end of the year. Now it has been shortlisted for the Under Open Skies Harry Williamson Award for the best amateur and professional films on Britain's natural world. This is the first time the competition has been run and it was set up in honour of Harry Williamson, a very dedicated and prolific amateur film-maker. The prize is sponsored by Wyevale Nurseries. Borderlines Film Festival runs throughout Herefordshire and Shropshire and will screen at 37 venues from 25 March to 10 April. With over 220 screenings and events it is the UK's largest rural film festival. Gary said: "It's great to be shortlisted for this award, I have managed this reserve for more than 20 years and never seen an otter so it was a shock and real surprise to be in the right place in the right time with my camera at hand. The otters didn't seem to mind me being around at all and as the footage shows the two young ones had probably not had any contact with humans, they seemed fully at ease playing about in the stream." Gary will find out in early April whether he has won the prize.
Here is the video for you all to enjoy

Good Luck Gary