The key conservation focus of the Estate since the 1990s has been the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. The rarity of the habitats and the richness of the wildlife have earned the core area of the heaths important European and national conservation designations. These include Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
In 2006 the Estate established its own conservation charity, the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, to oversee the management of this site.
The Pebblebed Heaths are by no means the only area of conservation importance, or significant element of ‘Natural Capital’ for which the Estate is responsible. Within its boundaries lie additional European sites of conservation interest, three further SSSIs and 18 County Wildlife Sites (CWSs). All statutory and non-statutory (County Wildlife) sites combined cover 1,462 hectares, or 14% of the Estate’s land holdings.
In addition, the broader non-designated working landscape supports a range of habitats of high conservation worth. These include sea cliffs, streams, rivers, ponds, woodland, parkland, orchards, hedgerows, wetland, salt marsh and species-rich grassland. They support a high diversity of protected and non-protected species, as well as delivering a range of provisioning (e.g. food), regulating (e.g. purification of water), cultural (recreation) and supporting (crop pollination) services for broader society.
The Estate recognises that to truly deliver landscape-scale conservation, on a scale demanded by society, wildlife conservation must not be restricted to discrete reserves, however large, but embedded across all aspects of Estate business. The biggest gains for wildlife in the countryside will be achieved through appropriate management of our in-house, share and tenanted farms (8,000 hectares) and woodlands (1,800 hectares). It is across the broader Estate that we can achieve the connectivity and resilience our species and habitats require.
‘To embed wildlife improvement into all business activities and hand over to future generations a countryside more diverse, resilient, functional, and ecologically valuable than we have today’.
Delivery of our vision will be through improvements in business decision-making, increased internal and external investment, and through partnership working.
The economic rationale of our Wildlife Strategy is that we recognise that society and government will increasingly demand higher levels of transparency and improved environmental delivery from all businesses. The Estate trades on its reputation, and we believe that the investment we make now will be matched by financial returns through enhanced and sustained environmental performance, protection of the Natural Capital on which our business depends and strengthened business reputation and brand in the market place.
Prior to the establishment of the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust in 2006 the heathlands were managed by Clinton Devon Estates’ staff for conservation and recreation.
The formation of the Conservation Trust has ensured that a modern approach is taken, and that the appropriate governance and expertise are in place to maximise the effectiveness of conservation work and public education.
Overall governance of the Conservation Trust is overseen by a Board of Trustees and Directors of the associated Land Management Company.
The Pebblebed Heaths have been occupied by people since at least the Bronze Age, when turf cutting, burning and grazing helped turn the once densely wooded area into the sweeping open landscape that we love today.
Though only semi-natural, heathlands have high wildlife value and support species that are rarely found elsewhere. Without continued management and protection, this threatened habitat can quickly revert to scrub and, ultimately, to woodland.
Whilst scrub and woodland also have a significant wildlife value, heathlands are now so rare in Europe that there is a particular need to protect those few areas that remain to ensure the survival of this distinctive landscape, as well as the specialised species that depend on this habitat.
Conserving biodiversity is more than protecting the variety of species on earth; it is about protecting the habitats that support them too. We undertake a wide range of work to ensure that this unique environment continues to thrive and can be enjoyed by generations long into the future.
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act, the public have full and free access to all areas of the Pebblebed Heaths by foot.
Clinton Devon Estates also applied to Devon County Council to give general permission for horse riders and cyclists to use the heaths, so long as the user acts in accordance with the CROW Act legislation. As a result, horse riding and cycling by individuals is permitted.
The Act excludes horse-riding, cycling, vehicles, organised games or any activity for commercial gain. For full details of what is and is not permitted on the Pebblebed Heaths and the legislation that protects the heaths, please click on the link below.
A long-term vision for Clinton Devon Estates is the improvement of wildlife on our holdings, focusing on 120 hectares of the Lower Otter Valley. Against a background threat of climate change, we are seeking to restore the ecological health and functionality of an estuary that is currently disconnected from its natural floodplain.
The aim is to address the adverse impacts of historical flood defences and create over 50 hectares of rare intertidal and wetland habitat, enhancing the wildlife value of the Lower Otter from local to international significance.
By allowing natural processes and flooding cycles to re-assert themselves, we believe that the resultant environment can be enriched for wildlife, made more resilient to climate change and can be more sustainably managed.
The project area includes:
In addition to improving the ecological health of the estuary, we also aim to safeguard and improve existing access infrastructure and relocate recreational facilities whose long-term survival is compromised.
The River Otter and its estuary are key features of the East Devon landscape and form part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The project area extends from the estuary mouth at Budleigh Salterton to Otterton and represents one of the most visited recreational sites in East Devon.
The freshwater pearl mussel is similar to common marine mussels (Mytilus) but grows much larger and lives for much longer, often in excess of 100 years. It is a critically endangered European Protected Species, with much of its historical decline attributable to exploitation as an occasional source of pearls.
As a filter feeder, this species is also highly vulnerable to water pollution, with engineering works such as the construction of weirs or deepening of pools also contributing to its decline. It has a complex life cycle and in its first year, the early life stage requires the hyper-oxygenated habitat of the gills of young salmon or trout to survive. Some of the last remaining populations occur on rivers within Clinton Devon Estates ownership.
The Devon project to protect freshwater pearl mussels is led by the Devon Wildlife Trust and forms part of the ‘Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England’ project. This is led nationally by the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) with partners including West Cumbria Rivers Trust, South Cumbria Rivers Trust and North York Moors National Park, with the support of the Environment Agency and Natural England.
The principal aim of this project is to safeguard the future of some of the most important freshwater pearl mussel populations remaining in England through river restoration and by engagement of local communities.
Work has included population surveys and water quality monitoring. Support and advice has been given to farming tenants to reduce their contribution to poor water quality, which impacts on the species. Captive breeding has also been undertaken, with a view to inoculating the gills of salmonids to increase the size and range of existing populations.
The greater horseshoe bat is one of the UK’s most threatened bat species. Female greater horseshoes gather in large maternity roosts, with the Estates-owned Beer Quarry caves being an important site for this species.
The bats depend entirely on traditional cultural landscapes when foraging for insects, and depend on significant areas of grazed pasture and broad-leaved woodland, connected by well-managed hedgerows and other linear features.
British numbers of this species have fallen by at least 90% within a century, and its range has contracted dramatically, now being restricted to South West England and South Wales. Devon hosts a third of Britain’s greater horseshoes.
Led by the Devon Wildlife Trust, the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project focuses on the county’s remaining maternity roosts and key hibernation sites, together with the surrounding sustenance zones on which the bats depend for most of their foraging. It aims to increase public awareness and scientific understanding of this species and to encourage bat-friendly landscape-scale management.
Clinton Devon Estates has been a recipient of an agri-environment scheme since 2014 to support this species on agricultural holdings in proximity to Beer Quarry caves. This has facilitated the enrichment of hedgerow trees, appropriate cattle management to support dung beetles (an important food source) and the creation of bat-friendly ponds. In addition, a number of smaller bat hibernacula supporting greater horseshoe bats are managed and monitored in East Devon, in collaboration with the Devon Bat Group.
Clinton Devon Estates is part of the Devon Invasive Species Initiative, which is a steering group seeking to raise awareness of the impacts of invasive species, share good practice guidelines on their management and promote good biosecurity measures that can prevent their spread.
Invasive species are a very significant threat to Devon’s environment and associated wildlife through the transmission of disease, competition with native species and predation.
A number of invasive species occur on Estates land, including Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and Himalayan balsam, with work to control these species undertaken annually. The control of Himalayan balsam is part of a catchment-wide endeavour to reduce the extent and impact of this species.
Himalayan balsam originates from Asia. It was introduced to the UK in 1839 as an ornamental plant but has since escaped from gardens. It aggressively colonises river banks, hedgerows and woodlands across the UK, out-competing native species and resulting in a serious threat to native biodiversity. Himalayan balsam is listed under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Since 2012, Clinton Devon Estates has been working with a broad alliance of partners, including the Otter Valley Association, to control this species. The plant has a persistent seedbank, can resprout and can readily be transferred by human activity or downstream by water flow. Its management requires a long-term vision and sustained action.
The Estates’ strategy follows broad recommendations made by DEFRA’s Invasive Non-Native Species Framework (2008). This outlines key actions to strengthen prevention, detection, surveillance, monitoring, control and eradication of this species.
The local approach is to start at the source of each of the tributaries of this river and work down to the confluence where they enter the River Otter. Once these tributaries have been cleared, control on the main river and on farmland within the Otter Valley will be considerably more effective and sustainable.
Clinton Devon Estates is represented on the East Devon Catchment Partnership, which was established in 2014 to deliver improved water quality and encourage local collaboration and more transparent and improved decision-making related to land management practices.
A number of key areas have been identified to support the enhancement and delivery of a range of ‘ecosystem services’ including water quality improvement, flood mitigation, carbon storage and biodiversity.
Projects supported by the partnership in its first years have included research into diffuse pollution and the development of management advice on maize husbandry for farmers. Across East Devon, maizegrowing represents one of the agricultural practices having the greatest negative impact on water quality. This in turn impacts adversely on wildlife.
The East Devon catchment has a varied landscape and stretches from Exmoor and the Blackdown Hills in the north, to Exmouth, the Jurassic coast and west Dorset in the south. At approximately 750 square kilometres, the East Devon catchment drains the rivers Exe, Otter, Sid, Axe and Lim, with 103 river water bodies in the catchment as well as four lakes, four estuaries, ten groundwater bodies and coastal waters to the south.
East Devon is predominantly agricultural, with lowland cattle and sheep farms constituting 38% of the farming practice. We manage a significant part of the catchment (circa 5,000 hectares) of the Lower Otter Valley.
Rivers, groundwater and coastal waters are used for drinking water and recreation and should support healthy fisheries and wildlife. There are a number of water problems affecting the River Otter mainly related to manures, slurry and soil entering the river. There are also water quality problems related to sewage and run-off from urban areas. Rivers are monitored regularly to meet standards set out in the Water Framework Directive, with continued widespread noncompliance against framework objectives.
The Pebblebed Heaths are amongst the most important conservation sites in Europe due to the rarity of the habitats and species found. Covering over 1,400 hectares, the Pebblebed Heaths comprise the single biggest expanse of lowland heathland in Devon.
The main core of the Pebblebed Heaths are notified as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as a nationally important example of Atlantic-climate lowland heathland. The site is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive due to its support of rare habitats, nightjars, Dartford warblers and the southern damselfly.
The East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was designated in 1963 and covers all of the Pebblebed Heaths. The AONB Management Strategy recognises the Pebblebed Heaths as a significant landscape feature in East Devon, containing important natural habitats and archaeological features.
The Lower Otter Estuary is a very special place. It provides a habitat for a wide variety of breeding and wintering bird species, whilst being enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors each year.
This coastal community, however, faces growing challenges due to climate change, like many similar habitats. As the oceans warm up, they take up more space and the sea levels rise, whilst extreme storms and rainfall increase the intensity of erosion, threatening this unique environment.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project aims to work with local people and partner organisations to explore how we can preserve and improve the downstream section of the River Otter, its estuary, and its immediate surroundings for future generations in the face of a rapidly changing climate.
Currently, we are examining the possibility of a managed realignment scheme where the River Otter meets the sea near Budleigh Salterton in East Devon.
The project is being considered because the existing 200-year-old sea defences are now starting to fail and are becoming increasingly hard to maintain. Though this may have an impact on the surrounding infrastructure, it is an important project that is currently under consideration in order to protect the wider environment.
To find out more about the challenges facing the Lower Otter Estuary and how you can support the Lower Otter Restoration Project, visit the website.
Because of their long history of occupation and use, the Pebblebed Heaths have a rich archaeological history, with over 168 historic features noted in the County Council’s Historic Environment Record
From the prehistoric peoples who built the large number of barrows and cairns on the heaths, to the military use of the heathlands during World War 2, the footprints of human occupation are evident at every turn across the heaths.
Perhaps the most important archaeological site is Woodbury Castle – one of the most well-known archaeological monuments in all of Devon. The Castle is an Iron Age hillfort, with its impressive ramparts and ditch echoing back to an ancient era upon the heath. Due to its historical interest, Woodbury Castle is designated a Scheduled Monument (SAM No. DV61).