• Volunteering with the RSPB at Aylesbeare Common

    1st August 2012 | News | Claire
  • We arrived under leaden skies and joined around half a dozen other volunteers.

    Reserve warden, Toby Taylor, gave us some interesting information about the pebblebed heaths, their geology and how they are protected under EU legislation as they are sites of special scientific interest, special protection areas and special areas of conservation.

    We heard that many of the plants and wildlife were rare and the heathland had been created in ancient times because of over use.  This led to unusual sorts of plants taking root that liked poor soil.  The pebblebed heaths are now also home to rare birds, such as the nightjar and dartford warbler.

    Sadly, the dartford warbler numbers have dropped dramatically due to two very cold winters.

    There is an abundance of plants such as gorse, heather and bracken, which typify heathland.

    Most of the pebblebed heaths in East Devon, which stretch from Budleigh Salterton northwards along a ridge towards West Hill and further, are owned by Clinton Devon Estates.  The RPSB manage a significant chunk of the heaths and lease some of it.  Devon Wildlife Trust also owns and manages some of this land.

    Our first task was to help erect a military style tent a short walk from Joney’s Cross car park off the A3052.

    Fortunately, there were plenty of other strong looking volunteers to help with this bit.  Working out which tent pole goes where is not my strong point.  And I wouldn’t recommend anyone allowing me to hammer in a stay, while they hold it steady.

    As we made our way in the landrover across the A3052 into the Aylesbeare Common reserve the first spatters of rain hit the windscreen and I mused it would have been clever to bring my walking boots and our waterproof trousers.  Fortunately, my daughter had the foresight to wear her walking boots.

    We got to the destination after following a tarmac road for about half a mile and then a very uneven pebbly track for a short distance.  As we got out the wind dropped and it was quite warm.  After our hour’s tent erecting activity (well at least other people had been active), we got out our flasks of tea and snacks.  It was very pleasant chatting to the other volunteers.

    As soon we stood up to start work the rain suddenly became torrential and in a short time my feet encased in their very inadequate plimsolls were soaked, as were my jeans.

    Around 15 volunteers set off stomping around with scythes cutting back bracken and pulling up birch saplings and brambles.

    The aim was to avoid woodland growing.  There is quite a lot of woodland on the heathland, including some lovely trees such as scots pines, oaks and limes.  The RPSB wants to ensure it doesn’t spread in an uncontrolled way, which could cause all the heathland to revert to forest.  Hence pulling up the birch saplings.

    I saw a brown jumping sort of movement and spotted a young toad.  My daughter was very excited about this and we picked it up and showed some of the other volunteers before putting it back in a safe spot.

    I have to confess we did slope off (rather guiltily) early as the rain was so persistent and heavy and we were so wet through with not having waterproof trousers etc, but we really enjoyed the work and also the company.  There was a really good team atmosphere, with plenty of humour.

    There is something satisfying about working with a group of like-minded people and helping nature along a bit at the same time.

    Today made me realise how much charities do for our wildlife in East Devon.  I doubt that most people would know how much work the RSPB puts into managing and maintaining the precious heathland to protect the rare flora and fauna.

    These heaths are so special to East Devon.  They support a huge array of wildlife and public access means that people can enjoy them too so they also benefit our local economy, particularly green tourism.

    The RPSB organises weekly volunteer sessions to maintain the pebblebed heathland in East Devon.  If you would like to get involved ranger, Toby Taylor would be very pleased to hear from you.

    The local RSPB branch can be contacted on 01392 432691.