Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Devon Reds are really green

A herd of Devon Red cattle have been introduced to graze an area of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths near Budleigh Salterton. Picture courtesy of Devon Clinton Estates. For the full story, read on...

I wondered the other day whether Budleigh Salterton was beginning to follow a 'green' trend set by many environmentally-aware Devon towns who've embraced the 'transition' movement. But you could argue that our town has in fact been setting the trend for a caring approach to the natural world with its largely Budleigh-based Otter Valley Association, and - dare I say it? - its conservative outlook on matters such as beach-side development.

And of course, just a few miles inland, we've a convincing example of caring conservation in action in the shape of Devon Clinton Estates, a family-run business headed by the 23rd Baron Clinton, which is one of the major private landowners in the UK.

With interests in three business parks and residential property as well as a number of small businesses, along with its traditional farming and forestry operations, the Estates include 2,800 acres of the East Devon Pebblebed heaths. The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust is a charity set up by Devon Clinton Estates which employs full time wardens to look after the heaths and implement their Heathland Management Plan, developed in conjunction with Natural England.

Clinton cows could soon be generating electricity

Devon Clinton Estates' links to the county go back to 1550, when the 9th Baron Edward Clinton acquired land near Exeter.

The links may be ancient, but the business prides itself on its conservation credentials. It's currently engaged in a number of renewable energy projects on the Estate in terms of displacing fossil fuel use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These include examining the potential for collection of methane from the two dairy herds on the Estate in order to produce energy, either in the form of heat or to generate electricity to feed back into the grid.

The Devon Red cattle on the Pebblebed Heaths are part of a year-long trial into sustainable land management. Their hardiness and ability to graze on the heathland vegetation mean that the thirteen cattle will naturally open up important wet areas and reduce the height and density of scrub and new growth of birch and willow.

A Dartford Warbler Photo by Peter Beesley
The lowland heaths a few miles to the north-west of Budleigh are among just a few remaining in Britain, making them rarer than tropical rainforests. They are home to a number of rare birds such as Dartford Warblers and Nightjars and special flora and fauna such as the insectivorous Butterwort and Sundew plants. However, preserving the unique characteristics of the heathland depends on the continued management of the land, stopping trees re-establishing themselves and preventing gorses and bracken from taking over.

The twelve-month trial at the Dalditch Plantation has been initiated by the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Trust in conjunction with Natural England under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

Commons Warden Bungy Williams said: "Until now we have mechanically managed the area with spraying and with machinery including tractors and cutters. Not only is this incredibly difficult in a wetland area, it is not as environmentally friendly as we would like which is why we are testing more sustainable methods, that are environmentally friendly and equally, if not more, effective. In just a few weeks, these heavy footed cattle have already opened up some of the wet areas."

Above: Dalditch Plantation, looking south towards the sea

Devon Reds or Red Ruby Devons are a traditional breed which are recognised by conservation organisations as a preferred breed of cattle for grazing land with conservation value. According to the Devon Cattle Breeders Association, they are gentle, docile grazers.

On the Dalditch plantation, the animals are fenced in but walkers and horse-riders still have full access to the area, which has been made rider-friendly with the introduction of special bridleway gates.

Bungy Williams said: "We are very keen that people have free use of the area, as before, and at the same time they can see our grazing scheme at work."

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