BEEF & BUTTERFLIES
Anyone who owns or farms land on the wet, marshy valley sides of the Blackdown Hills is being offered new support through the Beef & Butterflies project. This locally-run project is offering free and independent advice on the management of marshy grazing land throughout 2013. It is also offering a chance to join a new local Association to help owners of this land learn from each other and make the best choices for the future.
Despite its beauty, the Blackdown Hills landscape can be very difficult to work, with steep gradients, poor soils and wet ground along spring lines. Yet the rushy pastures created by these conditions are very valuable for wildlife, supporting plants like ragged robin, devil’s-bit scabious and heath spotted orchid, and butterflies like marbled whites and the very rare marsh fritillary.
These pastures are there because they have been grazed for centuries, but in recent years grazing on this sort of poor land has become less economic, and many sites have fallen out of use. Once farming ceases they quickly become covered in scrub, which although it supports some wildlife, leaves no place for the previous fragile rare plants and insects.
Beef & Butterflies offers help in several ways. Sometimes it is useful just to have the value of your land for wildlife pointed out. Then some simple advice on the best management for your land may be helpful, and the project can also offer assistance in exploring sources of grant aid. Agri-environment funding is limited at the moment but if your land is not already in Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) then the project can help you with your ELS application. ELS will provide you with an income of £30 per hectare for 5 years which, although not huge, may provide you with some added funds to tackle fencing or other issues.
If you are already in ELS or Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), then the project may still be able to give you useful advice on achieving the prescriptions in your grant agreement.
There is a huge amount of experience and knowledge amongst the communities of the Blackdown Hills of how to make the best of this marshy land, and a major objective of Beef & Butterflies is to provide a forum for the exchange and sharing of that experience. What sort of livestock is best suited to wet land? How vulnerable are cattle to parasites and other infections when they graze these places? What is the best way to treat scrub invasion? Are there farmers out there who are looking for spare grazing? How do you identify the different plants and other wildlife on wet pastures?
To this end the Beef & Butterflies project is helping to form a new Association for owners and managers of wet marshy land in the Blackdown Hills, which will be launched with a farm walk in May 2013. The farm walk will be open to all, and will provide an opportunity to see grazing management in action, discuss funding possibilities and provide links between graziers and landowners without suitable stock.
The Beef & Butterflies project is run by local people, and supported by the Blackdown Hills AONB, the Forestry Commission and Natural England. It is funded by Making it Local, a locally-managed grants scheme in the Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONB areas, incorporating funding from the EU, Defra and Leader.
Any landowner or manager seeking free independent advice or further information should contact either Len North (on 01460 234309, mobile 07932 144411, email email@example.com) or George Greenshields (on 01297 678420, mobile 07770 961120, email George@ecologic-consultants.co.uk
As part of the drive to provide more habitats for wildlife in the forest, and to enhance the landscape and access value of the forest estate, the Forestry Commission is working with local farmers to establish low-intensity grazing in parts of the Neroche forest.
Conifers have been harvested from Wych Lodge, Buckland Wood, Staple Common, Ruttersleigh, Staple Common and Culm Davy, and grazing has been introduced at Wych Lodge, Buckland Wood and Staple Common. Although the initial harvesting may seem harsh, the long term outcome is that of increased biodiversity and accessibility in the forest. By creating interlinked glades, and introducing cattle, we will establish more habitats for wildlife
English Longhorn cattle were acquired in 2007, and added to in subsequent years. This breed has been chosen because of its hardiness, its suitablility for woodland settings, and its docile nature, which means it is suitable for sites open to the public.
In due course cattle will be grazing at Wych Lodge, Staple Common, Ruttersleigh, Mount Fancy, Staple Hill, North Down, Buckland Wood and Culm Davy Plantation.
Follow the link to YouTube to find out more about our forest grazing project.
Forest School is the name given to a special approach to outdoor education, which uses the natural environment as a tool in developing children's skills and confidence.
Forest School nurtures children's ability to deal with the outdoors, and teaches practical skills such as shelter building, tool making and fire lighting. It counters the modern trend for children to have little contact with the natural world during their education, and it pays huge dividends in developing children's self-esteem and motor skills. The approach works especially well with children who do not respond well in a conventional classroom environment.
Between 2007 and 2011 the Neroche Scheme organised training for nearly 50 teachers and teaching assistants from more than 25 schools across the Blackdowns, Taunton, Wellington and Chard. The project was coordinated by Clare Neenan and training was delivered by Simon & Marijke Shakespeare at the Forest Schools Training Company (http://www.forestschooltraining.co.uk/), with participants qualifying as either Forest School Leaders or Assistants. Neroche also worked with them to develop the practical requirements to run Forest School sessions, either on their own school grounds, or by making use of local woodlands.
As a result of this project, hundreds of children across Mid Devon, Taunton Deane and South Somerset are benefitting from the Forest School approach as a normal part of their school life.
The Neroche Scheme has created a network of new off-road Herepath Trails for walkers and horse riders.
Long 13.5 mile circular Staple Fitzpaine Herepath
This trail is a long distance trail, which is a good days walk or half day ride/cycle. The route follows existing public Bridleways and new sections of permissive bridleway. The trail is waymarked and easy to follow - look out for the wooden Herepath posts. The trail is suitable for walkers, experienced off-road cyclists and horse riders.
Short 1km circular All-Ability trail at Staple Hill
This trail allows everyone, including those with limited mobility, to explore the beautiful countryside of the Blackdown Hills. New viewpoints have opened up some spectacular views across the Vale of Taunton. On a clear day you can see all the way to Wales. The two viewpoints have picnic benches and seating. The trail has been designed and built to national ‘all ability’ access standards so it is easy for everyone to use. There are no steep gradients; the trail has a maximum gradient of 1:20 and is 2m wide with a compacted path surface. There are three wide kissing gates along the trail. The trail is suitable for all types of wheelchairs and pushchairs.
LiDAR - Ground truthing exercise
WHAT IS LIDAR?
LiDAR stands for (Airborne) Light Detection And Ranging.
The LiDAR laser can measure the height of the ground surface and other features in large areas of the landscape with incredible accuracy, providing highly detailed and accurate models of the land surface. LiDAR operates by using a pulsed laser beam (some 10,000 –20,000 pulses per second), which is scanned from side to side as the aircraft flies over the survey area. The LiDAR laser can measure the height of the ground surface and other features in large areas of the landscape with incredible accuracy, providing highly detailed and accurate models of the land surface. LiDAR can also read beneath the woodland canopy. This makes it a very useful archaeological tool in areas of woodland, particular if these areas have been wooded for a considerable period of time. It gives archaeologists the opportunity to quite literally see through the woodland cover and at last make sense of any earthworks, which may never have been previously recorded.
The Neroche Scheme undertook a LiDAR survey of our project area in 2008. The results of this survey will be used for a variety of purposes including ‘ground truthing’. Ground truthing is a voluntary field-based exercise involving teams/groups/individuals checking for the presence of any apparent archaeological features identified as a result of the survey.
The LiDAR image shown here is of the hillfort at Orchard Hill. This hillfort was only discovered in 1986, and the area is woodland. Ordinary aerial photography cannot detect the features, but lidar, which is able to 'strip' off the woodland, clearly shows the ditch surrounding the hillfort. The Neroche Scheme has been able to fund a LiDAR survey of the project area thanks to additional funding raised by the current funding partners.
Oral history - Stories from the past...
We have been lucky enough to be able to work with a range of local people and historical experts to record recollections, experiences and other historical information from this area. Some of the stories have been broken down into short audio clips and are available via the link below.
The Oral History Project is linked with the Voices from the Hills Project run by Judy Simmonds. We hope to provide audio clips of this project in due course
To listen some short audio clips please visit the Stories from the Past webpage
In September 2008 the Neroche Community History Project undertook an excavation of a site known as ‘Playstreet’, near Bickenhall.
Playstreet was a medieval settlement, which was deserted and left to ruin. Air photographs taken in 1977 showed extensive remains of the site. The settlement consisted of a street marked by a shallow holloway, with crofts and building plots on both sides, which was surrounded a triangular shaped green. The name Playstreet is probably Saxon in origin, meaning quite literally the street where people played.
An exhibition of findings from the excavation took place in Neroche Parish Hall in March 2009.
The Book of Neroche - Along the Wild Edge
'Along the wild Edge' was published in April 2011. Comprising 40 chapters written by 30 local authors, the book represents the most comprehensive and colourful publication ever on the Blackdown Hills.
4000 copies have been distributed, for free, to local residents across the area and in Taunton, Wellington and Chard. Currently no further copies are available, but the book can be obtained on loan through Somerset Library Service (Wellington, Taunton and Chard libraries), and we plan to post pdfs of all the sections of the book on this site in due course.
To ensure the long-term management and involvement of people in the Neroche area, the scheme has set up a few volunteering groups. These include the Neroche Conservation Volunteers, Butterfly Conservation Work Party, Herepath Trailwatchers Scheme and Heritage Group. It is hoped that in the future these groups will help to look after the Neroche area once the project has finished.
To find out more please visit the Volunteering opportunities webpage