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Future Landscape for the South Hams: Why wildlife needs our help


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September 19, 2022

Lynne Kenderdine, Land Management Advisory Officer at Devon Wildlife Trust, offers a vision for the South Hams's wildlife in this guest article.

Nature is in trouble and Devon Wildlife Trust’s mission stems from the need for urgent change and our belief that, if enough people care and act, we can bring nature back and do it on a grand scale.

Over the next ten years, Devon Wildlife Trust wants to double the area of land and sea that is rich in nature. We want all Devon’s soils, rivers, farmland and urban areas to be managed sustainably, so the air we breathe, the water we drink and the fields and streets we walk through make us healthier and happier. We want to bring back wildlife that has been lost and that can help us create a rich natural environment making us resilient to climate change. We want at least a quarter of the population to be making nature, and action for nature, part of their daily lives.

It's a big ask and it’s going to take all of us to act to make a difference.

Like the rest of the river valleys in the South Hams, the Avon Valley is under pressure.

The recent Guardian newspaper article shone a light on the crises facing UK’s rivers, using South Ham’s River Avon as an example of how often aesthetic beauty can mask hidden problems. The water quality of the river itself is negatively impacted by agricultural run off, sewage discharges and what we put down our sinks and loo’s. Salmon and trout numbers are lower than in years gone by. Insect declines are more apparent than ever before. As invertebrates provide food for countless other species these are worrying times for the vast range of creatures reliant on them. Once common place species, like hedgehogs, are becoming scarcer……but there is reason for optimism…

With the majority of the South Hams countryside in private ownership, our collective landowner liaison and community engagement work is vital if we are to achieve the scale of change we seek. Our Avon Valley Project is just one example of how Devon Wildlife Trust go about the business of encouraging landowners to deliver beneficial habitat change with the over-arching aim of creating bigger, better protected and better connected nature rich areas across the whole catchment. This is a model that we hope to extend to the Erme and Yealm catchments.

There are actions we can all take to help our wildlife turn a corner, whether we have land, farm or garden. We can increase the range of flower-rich areas with the aim of having something in flower from February to November to close the “hungry gap” for insects. (This includes flowering tree’s and shrubs as well as wildflowers). We can challenge our own perceptions of “tidiness” and allow the tangle of nature to “do its thing”, I’m not talking about permanent “re-wilding” but allowing vegetation to grow up, flower and then importantly seed. Observe “no mow May” and adopt the “too soon June” philosophy for your lawns leaving some areas uncut for as long as possible. This will be good for soil health too. The longer plants are in the ground the more their rooting structures can develop, establishing those underground fungal super-highways, building organic matter and sequestering carbon. Plant new hedgerows or woodlands, especially where they link to similar habitat. Think of your shrubs or trees like a community of people, making space for everyone from the young to the very old. Dig a pond. Compost. Recycle.

These are just a handful of suggestions for “growing” habitat diversity back into our farmland, towns, villages and gardens…..and for those aspects beyond immediate control, such as stopping sewage pollution into our rivers, make your voice heard and write to your MP.

When I was starting out as an advisor in the South Hams, a wise old farmer described the South Hams as a shell. Beautiful to look at but becoming devoid of wildlife. Let’s work together to turn the tide.

More information:

Avon Valley Project

Saving Devon's Treescapes

Wilder Communities