Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Its official, beavers are back

England's only breeding population of wild beavers look to have a brighter future after an announcement made today. Devon Wildlife Trust is hailing the decision by Natural England to grant the charity a five year licence to monitor the beavers as a key moment in the history of modern conservation. The charity is welcoming the positive news after spending months of hard work trying to secure a long term future for the animals. The beavers, which live on the River Otter in East Devon, were first discovered to be breeding in February 2014. A beaver and kits were filmed on the River Otter in February 2014 by local amateur wildlife cameraman Tom Buckley. The footage was proof of the presence of the first breeding beavers in England for hundreds of years. Anecdotal sightings of beavers and beaver activity point to beavers being present on the river for three years or possibly longer. Defra announced its intention to capture and remove the animals in July citing the risk to human health from a tape-worm that European beavers are known to carry, but which is not currently present in the UK. Defra's decision sparked an overwhelming response from local people, with the vast majority showing their support for the beavers to remain. Devon Wildlife Trust has spent the last six months working with Defra, Natural England, local farmers and the wider community to secure a solution that would see the disease risk addressed and the beavers remain. Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, said: 'We are delighted by Natural England's decision to grant us a licence to give these beavers a long term future on the River Otter. It's the result of a great deal of effort by our charity, supported by partner organisations across the UK and, most importantly, by the local community.' Harry added: 'This is an historic moment. The beavers of the River Otter are the first breeding population in the English countryside for hundreds of years. Estimates of when beavers went extinct in England vary. Recent documentary and archaeological research by Prof Bryony Coles, University of Exeter, suggests that remnant populations of beavers may have survived into the 1700s ('Beavers in the Past', 2006). We believe they can play a positive role in the landscapes of the 21st century through their ability to restore our rivers to their former glories. We know from our own research and research done in Europe that beavers are excellent aquatic-engineers improving the flood and drought resilience of our countryside and increasing the water quality of our rivers. See for example, 'Qualitative and quantitative effects of reintroduced beavers on stream fish', Fish and Fisheries, Volume 13, Issue 2, pages 158-181, June 2012. See also the interim findings of the Scottish Beaver Trial They are incredibly industrious animals and their hard work has benefits for people and wildlife.' Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts also welcomed the news: 'It is wonderful to hear that the first breeding population of beavers in England for hundreds of years is going to be allowed to remain in the wild. This is testament to the commitment of all involved, not least Devon Wildlife Trust and Defra. We know that we can't bring back all the great animals that the country's lost - at least not everywhere - but where it is feasible we owe it to future generations to do so. Wildlife Trusts are playing a key role in helping wildlife onto a firmer footing throughout the UK.' Natural England's decision grants the Devon Wildlife Trust a licence to monitor the beavers for the next five years. The charity's River Otter Beaver Trial will work with international experts to record and evaluate the impact of the animals. Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust's Conservation Manager, led the licence application to Natural England. He explained what the project will mean: 'This project will measure the impact that these beavers have on the local environment, on the local economy and on local people. The evidence from elsewhere shows that beavers should have an overwhelmingly positive effect, but this is the first time the animals will be living in a well-populated, agriculturally productive English landscape for hundreds of years. We need to ensure that any negative impacts of beavers are avoided. This will mean working alongside the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners to manage any problems that may arise over the coming years.' At present Natural England is yet to announce the full details of the licence. Peter added: 'Although we're very pleased to have been granted the licence we will need to consider its terms in full before the project can get under way. It needs to be a licence which will work for us and safeguard the needs of local communities, the economy, landowners and the beavers.' As part of the licence the beavers will be briefly be brought in to captivity in order for health checks to be made. This process will be overseen by Defra with expert advice from leading zoological and beaver experts. At the conclusion of the project in 2020 the River Otter Beaver Trial will present Natural England with its evidence. Using this information a decision will be made on the future of the beavers on the river. Devon Wildlife Trust now faces the task of funding the River Otter Beaver Project. An initial call for donations led to £45,000 being raised in just two months. However the cost of the five year monitoring project is estimated to run well above this figure. The charity is now asking supporters of the beavers to come to its aid and donate via its website or by phone on 01392 279244.

River Otter Beaver - Photo copyright David Land (All rights reserved)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Power walk on the Tarka Trail

The sheep are back in the field there’s a break in the weather and blue skies at last so time to get out in the open air to see if there is any sign of Spring. The Tarka Trail is ideal for a walk run or cycle ride and one of my favourite stretches is from Yelland to Fremington Quay which is about 2.25 miles. As we stepped from the car about 30 Crows were roosting atop piles of wood on a recently cleared puddle-filled field. Off the Trail there are a couple of points of interest for birdwatchers and nature lovers, a path which skirts the shores of the Taw Estuary and the small RSPB Reserve Isley Marsh and the Gaia Trust’s Home Farm Marsh. There is a Permissive Path around Home Farm Marsh both paths are wild-flower rich in Spring/Summer and at this time of year the marshes are havens for over-wintering birds. Today I caught sight of about 10 Egrets along this stretch. There are field upon field of winter stubble on the other side of the trail and I noticed further up there is now another Permissive Path linking the trail to the village of Fremington. Amongst the winter stubble I spotted two male Pheasants. The Tarka Trail can be quite busy so listen out for the sound of tinkling bicycle bells. Watch out for these cyclists, they come in all different forms and all at different speeds. Head down racers, family groups (there is always one slow one bringing up the rear) Little ones teetering on the back of Dad’s bike or tots on trikes, wheelchair users or wheelchair tandems, this fantastic Trail is open to everyone, even folk with bicycle trailers specially designed for pampered pooches. Today we just had a pot of tea and a toasted teacake at Fremington Quay Café but Sunday Roast is also on the menu at this time of year. There is also an exhibition here which offers a fascinating insight into the Victorian quay’s past, with touch screen, video and sound displays. The tide was creeping into the Pill, I spotted about 15 Oystercatchers on the mud flats beyond and there were two flocks of seabirds flying in to join the multitude out on the estuary. No sign of the Seal that was a regular visitor to the Pill last year. A quiet but brisk walk back the way we came, a twittering Blue Tit, a Robin and a large group of Chaffinch fluttering up then settling in a nearby tree. Luckily the late afternoon sun lit up the old power lines over Isley Marsh and highlighted the estuary across to the iconic Saunton Sands Hotel. On the horizon the new power turbines at Fullabrook Wind Farm. Article Pat Adams Sunday 18th January 2015
Don't forget to register now for the Big Garden Birdwatch 2015 which is on 24-25 January

Access and Parking - Head for the Estuary Business Park Road, West Yelland EX31 3EZ off the Bideford to Barnstaple B3233
or Access and Parking - Fremington Quay EX31 2NH
Focus on the RSPB Reserves in North Devon
North Devon Focus on the Tarka Trail
Points of Interest

The Gaia Trust
Please note: Dogs are not permitted anywhere on Home Farm Marsh, even on leads. This is because of the Trust’s purpose for the Marsh to support and encourage breeding and over-wintering birds. Cycling is also not allowed, but cycles can be left chained to the railings at the entrances to the site, at the cycle owner’s risk.
RSPB Isley Marsh
Fremington Quay Heritage Centre was renovated and officially opened it’s doors to the public in 2013. Located in the replica station building that also contains the popular Fremington Quay Café, on the Tarka Trail, the Heritage Centre now offers a fascinating insight into the Victorian quay’s past, with touch screen, video and sound displays enabling the visitor to step back in time. A charming community space, a good place for visits by local groups or schools or anyone wishing to learn all about the history of Fremington Quay and Fishleigh Pottery. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

‘It’s north Devon’s turn’ for marine wildlife protection, say community figures

Community figures across north Devon, including local MP Sir Nick Harvey, are supporting a campaign to secure protection for the area’s unique marine environment. Two sections of the north Devon coast, along with an offshore area north of Lundy, are set to be considered by UK Government for designation as Marine Conservation Zones in 2015. As no new areas for protecting north Devon’s marine wildlife were included in the Government’s first designation of MCZs in 2013, the feeling that 2015 is ‘north Devon’s turn’ is building. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is expected to begin a public consultation on up to 37 recommended Marine Conservation Zones in the next few weeks. The three north Devon recommended MCZs are Bideford to Foreland Point, Hartland Point to Tintagel and North of Lundy. These three areas include a wide variety of coastal and undersea habitats from the sandy shores of Bideford Bay to the popular rockpools of Ilfracombe’s Tunnels Beach. Devon Wildlife Trust has been inviting people to support legal protection of north Devon’s marine wildlife by becoming a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones. This campaign has received support from prominent figures in the local community. Local MP Nick Harvey explained why he wanted to see the creation of a Marine Conservation Zone on the coast of his constituency: “We are incredibly lucky to have such a stunning section of coastline right on our doorstep here in North Devon, inhabited by a diversity of species, from reef-building worms to seabirds, rare corals and harbour porpoises. There are real gaps in the existing Marine Conservation Zones across the country and I strongly support the case for Bideford to Foreland Point to receive this designation in the second ‘tranche’ of MCZs.” The first ‘tranche’ of 27 MCZs designated in 2013, included four Devon sites. Although one of these was around Lundy, these waters had already received protection as England’s first Marine Conservation Zone in 2010. That’s why the second round of MCZs represents the first opportunity to secure new areas to protect marine wildlife in north Devon. Sir Nick took up this point: “The conservation of North Devon’s rich marine environment is vital. We need the tailored protections that MCZ status can offer to ensure that generations to come are able to enjoy, study and preserve our fantastic marine ecosystems. There is a huge amount of evidence to back up Bideford to Foreland Point’s candidacy for the MCZ designation and I hope experts and the Government alike will make the right decision this year.” The beauty and variety of north Devon’s coastal and marine environment also support local livelihoods in fishing and tourism. New Marine Conservation Zones could have a role to play in safeguarding jobs for the future. Lawrence Raybone, director of Ilfracombe Aquarium, emphasized this point: “Careful consideration and collaboration needs to be offered to those who depend on the proposed Marine Conservation Zones for their livelihoods - but at the same time in order to provide long term sustainability of biodiversity adequate protection within proposed marine reserves is the only solution” said Lawrence. North Devon has already proved this to be the case, Lawrence continued: “Lundy Marine Reserve has provided evidence of the benefits of marine reserves providing safe havens for biodiversity -including commercial species such as lobster. These animals grow larger and produce more offspring, with juveniles moving into surrounding unprotected areas. These unprotected areas have then seen improved productivity and commercial value.” And it’s not just fisheries that could benefit, added Lawrence. “Other benefits include eco-tourism which is another valuable growth industry.” Currently closed for refurbishment, Ilfracombe Aquarium is due to re-open for the February half-term with a Devon Wildlife Trust display on the Marine Conservation Zones campaign. The marine wildlife of the north Devon coast still provides surprises. In 2014, retired teacher Robert Durrant, who volunteers as a marine recorder for Coastwise North Devon, discovered a new variety of sea anemone off Hele Bay, as reported in December. Bideford resident Robert explained why creating new Marine Conservation Zones is so important: “The more rich in species the seas are, the more we are enriched, spiritually as well as economically. So it is vital that we act quickly and effectively to stop the decline, and to create havens where this natural treasure of sealife can be safe and flourish. There needs to be a network of such havens, interlinked and comprising every type of habitat for every type of marine life.” Having spent countless hours exploring the north Devon coast, Robert detailed his feelings about why this area is so special: “The dramatic coast of North Devon is a beautiful but a harsh and demanding environment. There is little shelter. On the rocky coast, most creatures have to seek out refuges against the pounding Atlantic breakers. Nevertheless, there is a great richness of life here. And this needs protection against human ravages, against which it is defenceless, much more than against the fury of the sea against which it can cling to life.” Devon Wildlife Trust’s Richard White, summed up what marine conservationists want to see in north Devon: “It is vital that we fill gaps in the network of protection around our coast. The North Devon Marine Conservation Zones were left out of the first round, much to the annoyance of local stakeholders who worked so hard to reach agreement on where they should go. We know that the voice of the public makes a difference, so we are encouraging people to respond to the Defra consultation in the coming weeks, showing the strong levels of local support to ensure these special places are protected.” 
To support the creation of north Devon’s MCZs people can become a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones on the Wildlife Trusts’ website ‘Friends’ receive all the information and guidance required to take part in the public consultation on Marine Conservation Zones, which is expected to begin in the next few weeks.
  Welcombe Mouth, where Devon meets Cornwall: coastline included in Hartland Point to Tintagel recommended MCZ - Photo copyright David Chamberlain (All Rights Reserved)
Nick Harvey MP and DWT’s Richard White rockpooling at Combe Martin, Sept 2014 
Photo copyright DWT (All Rights Reserved)
Devonshire cup coral, one of the notable species of Bideford to Foreland Point recommended MCZ Photo copyright Paul Naylor (All Rights Reserved)