Dunsland Volunteers Spring In to Action!

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As the earth warmed and the avian symphony began the sun shed it’s dappled light through the trees and we set about the task ahead.

Our team for the day consisted of our very own Dunsland Volunteer Group and Community Ranger as well as Full time Volunteers, all kindly giving their time to help us improve access to this wonderfully intriguing historical Parkland, a walk through which reveals walled gardens, ancient trees, rare lichens and numerous other natural treasures.

As time has passed our car park has become somewhat tired and as such was in need of a bit of a face lift. Within hours our plucky team had re-surfaced the whole car park, installed drainage pipes to prevent waterlogging and beautifully re-assembled the stone coin at the entrance.

The weather was kind, the banter was great, some new skills were learnt and in the process the car park has now become more usable to locals and visitors alike.

I did forget the cake though!

Thanks to everyone who was involved and I’ll look forward to seeing you on our next work day.

Ranger Gregg

If you have an interest in volunteering then please do get in touch. We’d love to speak to you. See the National Trust website for details.

Indestructible toilet!!!

Part of the Dunsland Estate forms a training site for Holsworthy Bee Keepers Association and it’s old engine house is used by members as a place to “relax”. But with recent high winds it’s a miracle this historical building is still there. As the recent high winds whistled through the ancient trees of Dunsland, there was one casualty, an impressive Lime tree which alone would have, without a doubt crushed the building beneath it. Luckily, it’s fall was cushioned by a large stand of Laurel and a an Oak limb which was left straddling the roof. This was a specialist job and as such we called in the experts who adeptly unveiled the engine house to reveal the damage- two broken ridge tiles!?!

A miracle I’d say and the toilet lives to see another day.

Ranger Gregg

Found out more about Dunsland’s wonderful Parkland, history and wildlife at


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Burning in the Sun

In today’s beautiful sun, myself and the rangers at Hartland were out on Windbury Hill Fort creating a lot of smoke. We seized the beautiful weather and very low winds to spend the day out burning the gorse to encourage the diverse grassland on the hill fort. This work, paired with future grazing by hebridean sheep will reduce the effects of scrub encroachment.  With spring very much round the corner we will hopefully see the results of our labour in improving the habitat in this stunning location.

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By Karen Saunders

Full-time Voluntary Ranger, Torridge

Peppercombe Beach Path Re-Build

On a fair Friday in February, Luke and I found ourselves down on the beach with some of the community volunteers at Peppercombe. During the recent stormy weather the path down to the beach was washed away meaning that access to the beach was lost. So we headed down to rebuild the path. We were lucky to have the help of 3 volunteers. As is often said, ‘many hands make light work’ and the new path was built in just a few hours, restoring access to the lovely beach.

Check out the photos below of the new beach path.

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Thank you to the volunteers that came down to help us on the day.


Karen Saunders

Full-Time Volunteer Ranger, Torridge.

Rockham Beach Update

Good news – Contractors Marine and Civil Solutions are on site today starting phase one of the construction of the new Rockham Beach Steps. They are working alongside Celtic Rock Ltd, who are rock/cliff stabilization experts, to put in place safety scaffolding and rock pinning to stabilize part of the cliff.  All being well the main bearers for the steps will be in place within the week.

Please take care when walking along the Coast Path past Rockham Beach and also along the Lighthouse Road as there will be increased construction vehicular traffic for the next three weeks.


The Anemone Within

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I confess, I’m a big fan of sea anemones. You know the things, they look like blobs of slime-jelly in the rock pools. But, believe me, there’s a lot more to them than the inert lump of goo they resemble.

So I was delighted when I found out that Rob Durrant (the Rob Durrant – all will become clear…) was talking about all things to do with cnidaria (that’s sea anemones to the likes of us).

Rob Durrant is with Coastwise, a fantastic North Devon organization of enthusiastic volunteers many of whom spend their time seeking out and documenting the wildlife in our rock pools. Many of the national records that exist for what lives in North Devon rock pools come from this one group of dedicated individuals.

Coastwise, when they can take some time away from their rock pools, also run a series of talks each year on coastal issues and, last Tuesday was the turn of Rob Durrant and the sea anemones to take centre stage.

Rob spoke very  convincingly about the wonders of the sea anemone. They are not fixed to the rocks, as we think, but can travel, albeit slowly, across rocks and through the water. They are by no means passive, inert beings, but constantly punch above their weight in the rock pool world by capturing and devouring sizeable fish and crabs using their sticky tentacles both as bait and a trap. And if a neighbouring anemone annoys them they will strike them with toxin-filled tentacles – starting a slow-motion tentacle-waving battle that can last for days. Ok, so it’s not exactly going to be the next Rocky sequel, but it is strangely absorbing to watch.

We get sea anemones all around our coast, but I would argue that North Devon is an anemone hotspot, with a rich history of anemone-fanciers. It all started with a chap called Philip Henry Gosse – the original sea anemone expert. Based in Ilfracombe in the mid-nineteenth century, he made a meticulous study of the local sea anemones and wrote the first guide to these fascinating creatures. He also invented aquariums presumably  so that he didn’t have to stand in the cold to study  his rock pool wildlife. His work made him the godfather of rock pooling and the rest of us are following in his learned footsteps.

But our prowess in all things cnidarian is not just historic. As I said, Coastwise volunteers are busy documenting the rock pool species we have and they often find rare and important species living in our waters that we may well have overlooked without their efforts. And then one day in 2014, Rob Durrant hit the jackpot. He found a completely new variety of sea anemone right here in Hele Bay. Not having a name, he called it the Fairy Anemone and, being only 6 mm tall, very delicate and nearly translucent, the name is fitting. The find got national and international publicity for the fairy anemone, for Rob and for North Devon as whole. Yes, even Philip Henry Gosse would have been very proud, although I imagine he may have been just a little bit envious that he didn’t find it first…

Many thanks to Coastwise for their hard work and to the Fairy Anemone for choosing North Devon as its home.

Gudrun Limbrick
Visitor Services Officer

To find out more about Coastwise, please visit:

To find out more about submitting records of local wildlife:


Return of the Native

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We stop at the edge of the pond to examine a tree which has been gnawed almost all the way through but is still standing. A pile of woodchips surround it, and the trunk is covered in large teeth marks. A network of ponds and canals runs across the enclosure, water trickling over the sides of dams from one level to the next.

This is all the work of two beavers currently being studied by Devon Wildlife Trust to find out more about them and what impact they have on their environment. It is an exciting project that the North Devon rangers and volunteers went to visit a couple of weeks ago.

Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) are large semi-aquatic plant-eating rodents which were driven to extinction in Britain sometime in the 16th century. They were hunted for their extremely dense, warm fur and for castoreum, a substance produced in their scent glands which was used for making perfume and medicines.

Small isolated populations survived in parts of continental Europe which have since been reintroduced to much of the species’ former range including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. In Britain, there have already been a few trials including the Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale, as well as some ‘escaped’ populations, such as the ones living on the River Otter.

It is hoped that as well as restoring a missing native species they could also be used as a conservation tool. Research from the Devon Beaver Project has already shown that the way in which the beavers engineer the river system can improve water quality and regulate water flow. They also control scrub and create a diverse age structure of trees by coppicing.

Many thanks to Mark from Devon Wildlife Trust for showing us around the site. I think it is fair to say we were all buzzing from the experience and will be closely following what happens next for beavers in Britain.

by Zoe Caals, Volunteer Ranger

For more information on the Devon Beaver Project see:

A report on the first two years of the project is available to read here: