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Our work at Buckland Abbey

View of Buckland Abbey, Garden and Estate, Devon with blue skies and wispy clouds above
View of Buckland Abbey, Garden and Estate in Devon | © National Trust Images/ John Millar

Our work on the upkeep and conservation of Buckland Abbey has included everything from building repairs to woodland management, and we occasionally uncover some surprises that shed light on the lives of previous occupants.

Buckland Abbey's past

Buckland was founded in 1278 as one of the last of the Cistercian monasteries to be built in medieval England and Wales. During the dissolution of the monasteries 250 years later, many of the Abbey’s buildings were destroyed.

It is also well-known for being the home of two famous seafarers, Sir Roger Grenville, captain of the Mary Rose, and Sir Francis Drake, after it was converted into a dwelling in the 16th century. Although fragments of the original building survive, it has undergone many modifications and phases of refurbishment over the years.

Repairing the kitchen garden wall

In late 2019, a £54,000 project was begun to repair Buckland Abbey’s Grade I listed Kitchen Garden wall, as the uneven ground levels of the slope on which it was built had caused it to lean significantly. During the course of this work, the area around the old wall was investigated by Trust archaeologist Jim Parry and his team.

As he painstakingly excavated the foundations, Jim uncovered stone steps that may once have been trodden by the Cistercian monks, and made other discoveries that provided new evidence of the site’s medieval history.

Two archaeologists in high-viz jackets examine material in a long narrow trench, which leads away from the camera, with a low stone structure in the foreground
Archaeologists excavating between two newly discovered walls at Buckland Abbey in Devon | © National Trust / Alex Prain

A new archaeological find is always exciting, and this recent discovery has uncovered tantalising new evidence of buildings probably relating to the 16th-century monastery, its demolition after Henry VIII's dissolution, and redevelopment as a home for famous seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake.

A quote by Jim ParryNational Trust Archaeologist

Jim and his team found that the existing Kitchen Garden wall contains around 36cm of brickwork belonging to a medieval building on the site. Although the two ends of the wall have been rebuilt, the central section, including a low arched opening believed to relate to a watercourse that once ran through the garden, appears to be original.

Also discovered in the foundations were a set of steps associated with a blocked doorway still visible on the downslope side of the existing wall. The material used to infill the steps contained a 16th-century tripod pipkin or skillet, suggesting that it was part of the medieval monastic complex demolished during the reign of Henry VIII.

The presence of a pair of garderobe chutes, associated with toilets, which would have been within a projecting turret, suggest that the structure was part of a two-storey range of lodgings roughly parallel to the Tower.

Atmospheric woodland image of tree trunks with mist behind them
Woodland at Buckland Abbey in Devon | © National Trust Images/Fi Hailstone

Woodland management

Along with conserving the buildings, managing the estate’s ancient woodland is a big part of our work at Buckland Abbey. Historically, management was purely for production purposes; techniques were designed to maximize yields and minimize losses sustained through the actions of grazing animals.

The abbots of Buckland would once have cleared some of the woodland in order to help fund the silver mining in the local area. They would have had an awareness of wildlife. But with the needs of the woodland to provide fuel, income and so on, its survival and success wouldn’t have been central to their work like it is to ours.

Our plans for Great North Wood

Great North Wood at Buckland Abbey is what is known as a Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). Our goal is to restore its formerly diverse habitats by removing the plantation trees and re-stocking with mixed native broadleaf trees. In a few hundred years it should look more like it did in the past, with mighty oaks and lofty beech trees providing shade for a myriad of wildflower species.

As part of their work, the Ranger team have been busy felling the trees to allow the woods to develop into a mix of native deciduous trees and coniferous softwood species. The areas of open space are being restocked with broadleaved species either through natural regeneration, or by the planting of locally sourced trees.

The track side edges will be left as open space to encourage woodland wildflowers and shrubs to develop, which in turn will be an important habitat for a range of species, including bats and butterflies. The Silver Washed Fritillary is just one of the butterfly species benefitting from this woodland work.

We work with harvesting contractors, as they have expertise and are often able to send the felled timber to local mills to be turned into paper, building materials and biomass.

Thank you for your support

As a charity, we can only carry out our vital conservation work with your help. The funds raised through donations help us to buy things such as nesting boxes, ID guides and other equipment that will allow us to understand and look after the wildlife on the Buckland estate.

Peacock butterfly in the garden at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

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