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Our work on the estate at Killerton

A man walking through long grass surveying butterflies
Carrying out butterfly surveys on the Killerton estate | © National Trust Images / Fi Hailstone

Killerton estate is a rich tapestry of habitats and a haven for wildlife. Across 2,500 hectares we look after ancient woodland, three rivers, floodplains, meadows and farmland.

We have big ambitions to improve this landscape for wildlife, people and the planet by planting more trees and hedges, improving the state of the rivers and creating better habitat for wildlife. We also want more people to experience what the estate has to offer, so we will be improving access with more pathways and different ways to engage with nature.

Here’s a taster of some of the work we are already doing. Check back regularly for updates.

Two volunteers  in a field planting hedging with protective tubes on the saplings
Hedge planting on the Killerton estate | © National Trust Images / Fi Hailstone

Tree planting

We've set ourselves a target of planting one million trees by 2030 and we are already well on the way to acheiving that goal.

We're planning 6.5 hectares of new woodland with thanks to the European Woodland Creation Offer, 55 hectares of new woodland through Forestry Commission and 35 hectares of wood pasture which will allow grazing amongst areas of trees. It's not all new woodland creation, many trees are supporting old woodland and creating hedgerows.

Hedge-laying

A vast 2km of hedgerow will be planted. The team at Killerton also use the traditional rural skill of hedge-laying to ensure the hedges are free from gaps, dense in structure and stock-proof. These then provide great food supplies and habitat for wildlife.

Coppicing

Killerton’s rangers use the traditional forestry technique of coppicing, which essentially means cutting back plants and letting them regrow. This cycle increases woodland biodiversity, because it allows more light to reach the woodland floor and other species to grow. Many of these plants that grow are food sources for butterflies and other insects. These, in turn, provide food for birds, bats and mammals such as the dormouse.

Ranger walks and talks

Throughout the year there will be events and activities for all ages so you can find out more about our work and plans and get involved. All events can be found on our website events page

Wildlife

Monitoring is vital to establish the current state of the environment and to observe changes in the future. With garden, parkland, historic buildings and ancient woodland, the vast estate at Killerton is home to creatures great and small. National Trust staff and volunteers have an active programme of monitoring on estate, especially plants, bats, birds and butterflies. Some of these creatures, such as bats and dormice, need a little extra help being protected than others and that’s where Killerton’s team of rangers and volunteers step in. There are bat boxes and dormice boxes across the estate, which are monitored to see how well these special animals are thriving.

Bats

Bats are a sign of a green and healthy environment so the bats love Killerton as much as the team love the bats. Local consultant ecologist Dr Johanna Rabineau and her team have established several transects and completed numerous building surveys in 2024/25 to increase our knowledge of bat populations across the estate. They are helping us to train volunteers to monitor bats, so we can understand how our habitat creation and restoration is increasing populations. Killerton is home to 13 of the UK's 18 bat species and is particularly important for lesser horseshoe, greater horseshoe and barbastelle.

The rangers work with Devon Bat Group to undertake bat monitoring across the estate. In addition, a special team of bat volunteers also keep tabs on which species of bat call the woodlands, farmhouses and barns of Killerton home. Ashclyst Forest is the largest woodland on the Killerton estate and the team regularly check more than 60 bat boxes a month in Ashclyst alone.

'Through the team’s monitoring we have so far recorded 13 of the UK’s 17 breeding bat species at Killerton, making the estate a hugely important site for bats in the South West’

- Sarah Butcher, Devon Bat Group

Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus)
Barbastelle bat | © National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark

Dormice Monitoring Programme

There’s a healthy population of dormice at Killerton and the rangers are working hard to ensure that our furry neighbours can thrive. Like bats, dormice are a good indicator of a healthy woodland habitat. There are 100 dormouse nest boxes across the estate, which help the team monitor the resident dormice.

Surveying the boxes

The boxes are surveyed once a month between April and October when the mice are active. We’re lucky to have some lovely hazel coppice stands around the estate, which are great places to look for evidence of dormice. While surveying the boxes, rangers will check the dormice, weigh them, sex them and take photos before returning them to the box, all without waking them.

Improving dormice habitat

Dormice like to be high among the tree branches, rarely coming to the ground, so the team at Killerton ensure that there are connecting branches high up. This means the dormice can move around on their treetop canopies during their nocturnal activities.

The small rodents also prefer ancient woodland and hedgerows – loss of this habitat is partly the cause for their declining numbers. So, here at Killerton, we’re looking after the hedgerows and ancient woodland to protect their home. We also make sure the woodlands and hedgerows all connect, so dormice populations don’t become isolated.

A dormouse curled up asleep in a cupped, outstretched hand
Dormouse box checks at Killerton in Devon | © National Trust Images/Fi Hailstone

Bird and butterfly population

By improving the habitat across the estate and increasing the insect population, this has had a direct effect on the insect and bird life. We're planning 37 hecatres of species rich meadow. We’ve already seen new species ‘move in’, with the brown argus and brown hairstreak butterflies being recorded on the estate for the first time in 20 years. We’ve also seen cirl bunting, one of Britain’s rarest birds, breed in hedges alongside new areas of wood pasture, and breeding barn owl pairs have increased from just one to three. The estate team have also been working with the local community of Broadclyst to help boost and monitor the swift population too.

We're encouraging more Citizen Science monitoring projects with our local communities and we're supporting local environmental and butterfly groups with monitoring equipment for adults and children.

Rivers

We are restoring nature and the natural landscape in the Clyst, Culm and Cranny Brook rivers which flow through the Killerton estate, with a focus on improving habitats for the future. You can find out more here.

We've been adding brash (brash consists of cut tree tops and small-diameter branchwood) damming drainage ditches in Ashclyst forest to create ponds by allowing the water to flow onto natural floodplains. This creates wetlands in woodlands and marshy grasslands. By reintroducing ponds across the estate, we hope to encorage an influx of frogs and birds that feed from them.

Beavers

Beavers are a sign of a healthy river as they create, modify, and maintain habitat and ecosystems. By bringing wood into the water, the wood provides food and shelter for insects which in turn becomes food for other species. Once beavers are settled, water voles may follow. For now we will concentrate on making the environment suitable for any future inhabitants.

A hazy photo of lilac dainty flowers in a meadow
Newly planted meadows are thriving at Killerton | © National Trust / KIND

Supporting tenant farmers

The Killerton estate has 15 tenanted farms and the team at Killerton are working in partnership with tenants, whose knowledge and experience of the land is invaluable. We are encouraging and supporting plans for regenerative farming methods and some farm tenants have already started doing this.

Jason and Amelia Greenway, farmers on the Killerton estate said:

'We strive to farm in harmony with nature. Every decision we make is based on what impact it will have on the biodiversity on the farm, our animal’s welfare, and the soil's health. When we restore wetlands, the results are often rapid, and spectacular, so our particular passion is to return water to the surface of our landscape, as ponds, clean rivers, and in floodplain woodlands.'

Working together for nature

We’re aiming to enhance the estate further for nature by restoring and creating additional areas of priority habitat. Thanks to the 'Plant a Tree' project we are planting 28,000 trees and 4.4.km hedges across 9 tenanted farms. The trees will be planted by our ranger team of staff and volunteers, corporate groups, contractors and local community groups.

What's been happening?

June 2024

New Moth to British Isles

A new moth species which is new to the British Isles, Psychoda mycophila Vaillant, has been discovered in Ashclyst Forest and neighbouring National trust property, Knightshayes. It's an exciting find!

Opening up access to nature

The team at Killerton are working to ensure that visitors to the estate can access all areas, from multi-use paths that are suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, to sustainable transport networks to link our communities. We are in talks with the local council to improve sustainable transport links from Cranbrook and the surrounding communities to make it easier for people to visit the Killerton estate.

Bird hides and boardwalks on the estate will be made in order to bring nature and people closer together. Access into Danes Wood has been improved with the removal of steps and a new ramp installed. This not only benefits any wheeled mobility users but also our visitors on horseback using the bridleways.

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