Monday, 25 November 2019

Devon Wildlife Trust becomes owner of major new wildlife haven in North Devon

Devon Wildlife Trust has purchased the 80 hectare wetland which forms part of the northern edge of the Taw Estuary, close to the village of Braunton. The undisclosed purchase price was met by the charity after it received a generous donation from a local resident and bird watching enthusiast, Mr Mark Ansell. The Trust now intends to make the site its latest nature reserve.

After a breach to its sea wall in 2017, Horsey Island now consists of an extensive intertidal salt marsh and wetland. It is a haven for wildlife and is especially important as a feeding and roosting place for thousands of birds including many rarities. A flock of more than 1,200 golden plover has been seen roosting and feeding there. Ospreys, Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis and Great White Egrets have all been recorded there in the recent past. These and many other seasonal sightings have made the site popular among birdwatchers.

With the addition of Horsey Island Devon Wildlife Trust now manages 57 nature havens covering well over 2,000 hectares of the Devon countryside. The Trust aims to improve the site still further as a place for nature and provide opportunities for people to enjoy the spectacular bird life in this quiet corner of North Devon.

Horsey Island has a long and interesting history. The land was reclaimed from the sea in the 1850s to create farmland. Two earth bank defences were constructed to keep the sea out; one an outer wall facing the sea, and the other known as ‘Great Bank’ (not part of the new nature reserve owned by Devon Wildlife Trust), which runs between the site and Braunton Marshes further inland.

However, in recent times Horsey Island’s defences have been compromised. In 2017 a major breach occurred to its outer wall, inundating its interior with sea water. Rising sea levels and more frequent violent storms have since widened the breach. Today its interior is open to the tide and in the place of what was once farmland a fascinating system of tidal creeks, salt marsh and mudflats has been formed.

Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Director of Conservation and Development, said:
“Horsey is an exciting, dynamic place which is now being shaped by natural processes, dominated by the daily tides which ebb and flow into the reserve. Shifting sands and muds are starting to be colonised by salt marsh plants. It is now an exceptionally important location for roosting and feeding wading birds and stands as one of the best locations in the county to see murmurations of wading birds from the security of the Coast Path”.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, Harry Barton, said: 
“The purchase of Horsey Island is a wonderful opportunity. It will allow us to protect and enhance a stunning area of intertidal habitats in North Devon. Over the coming months we will be developing ambitious plans for the site in discussion with local stakeholders so that it reaches its full potential as a stunning place for wildlife and the local community.”

At present Horsey Island has no direct public access, but good views of the site and its wonderful birdlife can be had from the South West Coast Path which runs adjacent to it.

Devon Wildlife Trust has a successful track record of managing newly created tidal wetlands elsewhere in the county. In 2012 it took on the management of a similar nature reserve at South Efford Marsh nature reserve, near Kingsbridge, in South Devon. Since then the charity has successfully overseen its transition from rough grassland to saltmarsh and mudflats. The nature reserve has become one of Devon’s premier birdwatching venues.

 View across Horsey Island. Photo copyright Andy Bell (All rights reserved)
 View across Horsey Island. Photo copyright Andy Bell (All rights reserved)
Golden plover flock with lapwing in foreground (Nb. not taken at Horsey Island). Photo copyright Andy Parkinson (All rights reserved)
Golden Plover flock with Lapwing in foreground (Nb. not taken at Horsey Island). Photo copyright Andy Parkinson (All rights reserved)

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