Monday, 29 September 2014

Short Film Release - Boat Stories: Life's Journey on the Torridge

Life's Journey on the Torridge is a magical film which takes a trip up the river on the Cheeky Monkey with skipper Dave Gabe. This is the latest short film from producer Jo Stewart-Smith in the Boat Stories series. Jo, who lives near Chulmleigh in north Devon, talks about her inspiration for this film "Dave Gabe, the star and narrator of this film is also my local fishmonger. Several years ago I took my family on a trip up the River Torridge with Dave and he knew the story of every working boat and wreck we passed. As I got to know him I realised his knowledge comes from a fascinating life spent working on many different kinds of boats." Learning about Dave's life on the water from age 15 when he went straight from school into the rough world of tug boats inspired Jo to write the series of films about the working boats of north Devon: Boat Stories - Every Boat Tells a Story. As he putters along the river in the Cheeky Monkey (named after his daughter) Dave comments on the boats, bridges and wildlife and says "I never get fed up of coming up the river. There's always something different, always something new." One of the aims of North Devon Moving Image (NDMI), executive producers of the Boat Stories series, is to give work and work experience to established and up and coming creatives in north Devon. For Life's Journey on the Torridge Jo Stewart-Smith worked with Bideford based film makers Artaura Productions. Matt Biggs was the cinematographer on the film "Matt is a real craftsman and, living not far from the river, brought his own perspective and ideas to the film." says Jo. "We also really enjoyed working with young professional musician Anisa Arslanagic who grew up in Torrington. She composed and performed the music for the film on piano and violin working with music producer Tom Watkins at Yard 1 studios in Bideford.” Amanda McCormack, Creative Director of NDMI is delighted with the film "I love the tranquility of this film. Matt has captured the early morning atmosphere beautifully - the images are so vivid you can almost smell the river." Amanda added "I think that Anisa Arslanagic's etherial music is the icing on the cake with this one - it's just perfect!" Dave Gabe concludes the film by saying "I've had a lot of jobs connected to the sea in my life; big trawlers and coasters, tugs, lifeboats but I think best of all is this little boat Cheeky Monkey I've had more pleasure on this vessel than any other one."
North Devon's Biosphere Reserve commented "A wonderful film that captures the magic and the atmosphere of the river and deep love and knowledge that Dave Gabe has for it." 
Louise Howell watched the film on Youtube and commented "What a great short film, shows this part of the Torridge at it's best, the music is lovely too! Well done, love it!" 
Life's Journey on the Torridge, Anisa Arslanagic & Tom Watkins, Matt Biggs & Dave Gabe. Photos copyright NDMI (All rights reserved)
You can watch the film online at

New training scheme to help combat skills shortage

A new training programme 'Wildlife Skills' has been awarded £829,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), allowing four Wildlife Trusts in the South West to train 46 aspiring conservationists over the next three years. The scheme is designed to address the skills shortages within the South West conservation sector, and has already appointed 16 trainees based at Devon Wildlife Trust, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust. Each will focus on one of three areas; practical conservation, survey & monitoring or volunteer and community engagement. As well as gaining formal qualifications, the trainees will receive complimentary training in transferable skills to enhance their future employability and consolidate their learning by working with Wildlife Trust staff. 'Wildlife Skills' Coordinator, Dr Rachel Janes, said: "This new scheme will give those interested in wildlife a real insight into working in conservation, from learning about communications in the media, to gaining their chainsaw qualifications. After they have completed their year-long placement, trainees will have the skills and confidence to take their careers forward in the work place. The wildlife trusts involved are delighted to be part of this programme, and are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has helped make it happen." Luke Workman, Wildlife Skills volunteer & engagement trainee based at Devon Wildlife Trust said : "A special moment for me was introducing a rockpool crab to a child for the first time, it was great to see the fear of holding the creature be replaced with a fascination and excitement for wildlife. I realised that some of the animals I take for granted, other people have never encountered before. What a privilege it is to be the first person to help this little girl meet a crab for the first time!" Beth Aucott, Wildlife Skills practical conservation trainee based at Somerset Wildlife Trust said: "The most exciting thing for me so far, apart from seeing my first wild otter, has been working with the people who are so passionate about looking after wildlife. I have already learnt so much; I've improved my identification skills, honed and learnt new practical skills, such as brushcutting, and learnt about grants, working with graziers and management plans." 
The scheme aims to diversify the future of conservation by providing opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly young people and those in transitional phases of their lives and careers. New placements will be available in summer 2015. For more information about the training scheme please visit

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Cosmo Jarvis is an accomplished filmmaker, a brilliant composer and an exceptional live performer. Somewhere between perfect pop, deep funk and nonchalant virtuosity, Cosmo inhabits a ground that he is fast beginning to claim as his own as an utterly unique artist. Cosmo Jarvis does what he wants. In an age when musicians seem to be manufactured popstrels, the 23 year old from Devon is a breath of fresh air. Cosmo speaks his mind and, musically, go anywhere, regardless of ‘cool’, from hip hop to punk hoedown to gorgeous ensemble orchestration. His music and films have made him an online phenomenon. His YouTube shorts, usually observational comedy skits about small town life, have been viewed over two million times, his contagious shanty ‘Gay Pirates’, beloved of Stephen Fry, has almost a million Youtube hits. Cosmo’s last two albums, 2009’s ‘Humas you hitch/Son of a bitch’ and 2011’s ‘Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange?’, have seen him hightail between almost too many musical styles, but with his new album, ‘Think Bigger’, he decided to adhere to a singer-songwriter template tinged with alt-country sensibilities. This is Cosmo Jarvis, though, so it’s never straightforward or predictable, everything is imprinted with his personality and effusive imagination. 2012 saw Cosmo Jarvis embark on a 24-date tour with Mad Dog Mcrea. 
Advance Tickets £8 (Standing Only) Door Tickets £10 (Standing Only)
Tickets available from: Beats Workin Barnstaple Door open 7.30pm
Local support from: 
Sam Dowden 
The Tuesday Syndicate

“Cosmo Jarvis is a very interesting example to me of a new kind of person; a new kind of artist” – Brian Eno, BBC6 Music Nov 
“I believe him to be one of the most potentially important and fascinating new artists around at the moment.” – Angus Beatty, The Guardian 
“It’s the originality and daring of Cosmo’s lyrics that distance him from the identikit singer- songwriter hoards” – MOJO **** 
“Going large: third album from Devon’s answer to Beck” – Q **** 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Grazers return for first time in generation

For the first time in many years cattle are roaming the heathland landscape of one of south Devon's top nature reserves. Bovey Heathfield Nature Reserve, close to Bovey Tracey, is now home to six Galloway cattle. The job of the cows will be to munch their way through the some of the grasses, brambles and scrub that threaten to take over some areas of the delicate heathland. When the cattle are removed later this year it is hoped that they will leave the nature reserve in a better state to help rare wildlife including reptiles, birds, butterflies and wildflowers. Bovey Heathfield Nature Reserve is managed by leading environmental charity Devon Wildlife Trust. Its Nature Reserves officer Jackie Gage said: "This heath would once have been grazed by cattle belonging to local people. This grazing helped to keep it in balance, allowing its unique heathland wildlife to thrive. However these old ways of land management largely ceased in the first half of the 20th century and many heathlands were lost as a result of this. After a break of many years, introducing grazing animals means that Bovey Heathfield should now remain as a wonderful place for wildlife and people." The nature reserve needed investment before it cattle could roam again. Large parts of the 24 hectare site's perimeter had to be improved with stock-proof fencing. The cost of this was significant but Devon Wildlife Trust was able to do the vital work using a generous grant from Biffa Award, a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK. Jackie explained the difference that cattle will make to the nature reserve's wildlife: "The cattle will feed on some of the young scrubby bushes, brambles and trees that could otherwise easily smother the delicate heathland. They also munch through a lot of the dead purple moor grass that will also dominate if unchecked. This process of clearing is vital for a whole range of heathland specialist plants and animals that call the nature reserve their home.' Among the plants which are set to do well from the cows stay are wildflowers including heath milkwort, tormentil and lousewort. Birds set to prosper include stonechats and nightjars. While the cattle will also create bare spots in the heath for reptiles including common lizards, adders and grass snakes to bask in. The cattle should not put people off visiting this popular nature reserve which sits as a green oasis on the edge of the busy Heathfield industrial estate. Jackie added: 'The cattle are calm animals but we do ask people to be sensible around them. In particular that means keeping all dogs on a short lead. That way the cows can get on with their vital job of work keeping the reserve in good shape for local wildlife.' Bovey Heathfield is one of 50 nature reserves managed for people and nature by the charity Devon Wildlife Trust.
'Cattle are once again roaming the heathland of Bovey Heathfield Nature Reserve. near Bovey Tracey' Photo copyright DWT (All rights reserved)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

'Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area making a huge difference for nature - but more support needed

Representatives from a major conservation project in Devon are attending a special event in London today to mark two years of England's Nature Improvement Area (NIA) programme - and to ask the Government to continue its support of its crucial work in North Devon. The Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area covers 72,000 hectares in the river Torridge Catchment. It is one of 12 partnership projects which were created in 2012 following a competitive bidding process for a share of £7.5million new funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Natural England. The aim of Nature Improvement Areas is to improve the landscape for people and nature through restoring, expanding and joining up wildlife-rich areas. The South West only has two NIAs, one in Northern Devon and one in Purbeck. Today's Forum in London will enable the 12 NIA partnership groups from across England to share details and learning on the wide-ranging work they are doing to restore nature on a landscape scale, and their plans for the future. But NIAs may not continue into 2015 without further Government support. The Northern Devon NIA Manager, Lisa Schneidau, said: 'Thanks to the efforts of a huge number of farmers, communities and organisations working with us, the Northern Devon NIA has made a real difference for the river Torridge catchment in its first two years. The project has generated over £4 million to support action for the environment by local people. Without the catalyst of financial support from Government, none of this action would have happened. "Yet we have barely started, and there is much yet to do. Our current funding finishes in March 2015. We urge the Government to continue its financial contribution to Nature Improvement Areas. This support is crucial for the restoration of a healthy, wildlife-rich landscape in the Torridge catchment in the long term." Since April 2012 the Northern Devon NIA has worked with local landowners throughout 72,000 hectares of the Torridge catchment, within the North Devon Biosphere Reserve. Devon Wildlife Trust is the lead partner. Effort has been concentrated on offering advice and resources, to help local landowners manage wildflower (Culm) grassland, wetland and woodland, improve water quality in local watercourses, and engage local people in all aspects of the environment. So far the project team has helped 226 landowners, who in turn have restored over 1,200 hectares of land for wildlife. The project's work with communities so far has generated over 100 events, 33 school visits, over 3,000 volunteer hours and two theatre projects. Lisa and project partners will be presenting the main achievements of the project to an audience at the Forum which includes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Science Lord de Mauley, Professor Sir John Lawton and Natural England Chair Andrew Sells. Lisa said, "We still have 6 months of the current project to go - and everyone can get involved. 
Whether you are a land manager, a budding wildlife surveyor, a parish or community group, a school, or you simply want to find out more about your local environment - if you live or work in the river Torridge catchment, we'd love to hear from you." The Northern Devon NIA team can be contacted on 01409 221823 or
For more information, visit: 
A report on achievements of the NIA project in its first two years can be foundhere:
 Deptford Pastures near Bradworthy has been one of the many parts of the Devon landscape helped by the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area  - Photo copyright DWT (All rights reserved)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

River health checks off to flying start!

A river monitoring project established to check on the 'health' of North Devon's River Torridge has got off to a flying start. Set up earlier this year, the project now has 34 trained volunteers who are carrying out vital regular monitoring. The initiative, known as the 'Riverfly Partnership', is part of a national project monitoring the long term health of our rivers and helps to pick up on pollution incidents. The Devon version was set up earlier this year in the Torridge catchment. It was put in place by the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA). So far it has generated a good deal of local interest. After an initial call for 'river monitors' 34 local people came forward to help. They come from a range of backgrounds and include teachers, anglers, farmers, students and an acupuncturist! Members of the team have each been given their own stretch of the river and are now surveying it on a monthly basis, looking for freshwater invertebrates (minibeasts), hence the name 'riverflies'. Louise Davis, the NIA's Riverfly Co-ordinator, explained: "The invertebrates found in our streams and rivers can tell us a lot about their health. Their presence or absence gives us vital clues as to what is going on beneath the water's surface. By counting the invertebrates on a monthly basis, we are able to look at long term water quality, and if all the invertebrates disappear, we know that something has gone drastically wrong. The volunteers have been sampling over the summer months, making sure that vital fish spawning grounds are not disturbed over the winter. We're also careful to ensure that the volunteers are safe and that they are not swept away by floods!" The Riverfly project is being support by North Devon Fisheries Local Action Group, and Torridge District Council. Their generosity allowed the NIA to purchase equipment for the volunteers. Using hand nets, sampling trays and magnifiers, the volunteers are tasked with identifying eight different groups of invertebrates. Louise explained: "The work of the volunteers is not too technical, and the Riverfly monitoring scheme is one that anyone can take part in, with no previous experience required. It does however take an eye for detail and a certain level of patience to identify the different flies that are found." 
The project is keen to hear from other local people who might want to get involved. If you would like to find out more about the Riverfly scheme, or to register your interest as a volunteer for 2015, please email , or call Devon Wildlife Trust on 01409 221823. 
The monitoring scheme is part of wider work being undertaken by the NIA in NorthDevon. The project is one of 12 nationally important landscape scale wildlife schemes across England. It is delivering an impressive and ambitious range of work to restore Culm grassland and woodlands, create new wildlife habitat and improve water quality in the Torridge catchment. It is a partnership project within the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with Devon Wildlife Trust as the NIA's lead partner and at least 16 other project partners making active contributions to the project's outcomes.
 "Riverfly training takes place on the River Torridge. The scheme is getting local people to provide regular health-checks on their river."- Photo copyright DWT (All rights reserved)

Monday, 15 September 2014

Coronation Meadow sows seeds for the future

A meadow with a royal stamp of approval is at the root of the spread of rare wildflowers in north Devon. The meadow in question is Dunsdon, a National Nature Reserve owned by leading conservation charity Devon Wildlife Trust. Its 140 acres near Holsworthy are some of the best remaining Culm grasslands in the UK. Culm is famous for its rich summer displays of wildflowers including orchids, Devil's-bit scabious and others that have largely disappeared from the wider countryside. In 2012 Dunsdon received royal approval when it was made Devon's Coronation Meadow. The award came from an original idea of HRH Prince of Wales. As a way to mark celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation the Prince proposed that a meadow be designated in every county. 97% of the nation's wildflower meadows have been lost in the last 75 years, and it was concern for their disappearance that lay behind the Prince's initiative. Two years on Dunsdon not only continues to flourish but it is now being used as the focus point of a project which is seeing more wildflower meadows being established elsewhere. This summer Dunsdon has become a 'donor site' for wildflower seed which is now being used to create new meadows nearby. The work is being funded through the Partnership Scheme by Biffa Award; a multi-million pound fund which awards grants to community and environmental projects across the UK. The project has involved Devon Wildlife Trust staff gathering seed from the Culm grassland meadows of Dunsdon using a specialist bit of kit known as a seed harvester. The seed is then dried while a 'receptor site' is prepared nearby. The ground of the receptor site is cut to reduce its existing grass covering and then their top layer of soil is disturbed using a tractor-pulled implement similar to a harrow. In the final stage sowing takes place. Then the long wait begins watching to see what wildflowers appear the following spring and summer. In recent weeks wildflower seed from Dunsdon National Nature Reserve has been used with this method to sow ten acres of land at nearby Headon Farm. The land was purchased by Devon Wildlife Trust in March this year. Matt Boydell, the charity's Nature Reserves manager, explained: "Our new land at Headon Farm lacks the wildflowers that could support a wider range of local wildlife. Our aim is to improve it, so that's why we've embarked on this work. Seed from Dunsdon will allow us to do this. We're planting ten acres this year and then will do a further 20 acres over the next two summers." Matt continued: "This kind of work is exactly what Coronation Meadows were intended to do. They aren't meant to be standalone relics, the last remaining wildflower rich places in our countryside. Instead the intention is that they will act as the starting places for a movement to bring back wildflowers to the wider countryside." The existing wildflower meadows of Devon Wildlife Trust's Dunsdon National NatureReserve are home to many rare and threatened plants and animals including marsh fritillary butterflies, barn owls and lesser butterfly orchids. The charity's hope is that these species will now begin to spread along with the seed of Devon's first Coronation Meadow.
Seed Harvesting - Photo copyright DWT (All rights reserved)
 Seed Sewing Photo copyright DWT (All rights reserved)

Monday, 8 September 2014

FREE courses ‘All things wood-fuel’ this Autumn with Northern Devon NIA

Everyone likes to be cosy and warm. With Autumn round the corner and with rising energy costs it’s little wonder that people are increasingly considering the best way to heat their homes. With this in mind a series of FREE wood-fuel workshops is now being offered to people in north Devon. For some, woodfuel might conjure images of a log burner used only for special occasions, but in years gone-by wood from Devon’s hedgerows and woodland was one of the main sources of domestic heating. You don’t have to look far in Devon to find a woodland which could potentially be managed for abundant supplies of this renewable, sustainable fuel. Happily, in addition to saving money on your heating and helping lower carbon emissions, managing woodland for woodfuel can also be good news for wildlife too. Whether you’re a home owner thinking of new ways to heat your house, or a woodland owner interested in how your woodland might best be managed to contribute to the local economy, FREE courses led by industry experts and provided by the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area Project provide a wealth of information. 
  • September 16th - If you are thinking of renewable heating with wood-fuel - either woodchip or logs, and taking advantage of the Renewable Heat Incentive, this workshop will help you to understand how it all works, from accessing the woodlands to extract the timber to processing for chip-wood or logs. 
  • September 18th - Guided visits to local boiler installations to demonstrate the range of options available to anyone thinking of taking advantage of the Renewable Heat Incentive. 
  • October 2nd – A guided woodland walk to learn how Devon woodland can be managed for both biodiversity and economic value. 
  • October 24th - From 2015 all woodlands will only be eligible for grant aid if an approved management plan is in place. Learn what is required in the plan, how to access the grant and hear advice for those wishing to write the plan themselves or to contract the services of a professional. 
  • 4th November – With ever rising populations of the non-native grey squirrel, damage to young trees through bark stripping is at epidemic proportions in North Devon. If you have young trees or are hoping for regenerating seedling in your wood to have a chance of establishing this course is a must. 
  •  27th November – Learn how to fell and extract small amounts of timber for personal use or sale using techniques including a compact tractor, small crane and extraction using horses. Practical solutions for everyday woodland owner problems are all high on the agenda. For the less mechanized or equestrian amongst you there will be practical coppicing advice including the use of tools.
For more information on any of the courses described please visit or contact us on or call 07816342229
 Photo: Copyright Kevin New (All rights Reserved)