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Landscape Recovery Project at Killerton

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

The ‘Three Rivers’ Landscape Recovery Project aims to restore nature and the natural landscape at Killerton, with a focus on improving habitats for the future. It will provide even more areas of priority natural habitat on the 2,500-hectare estate, ensuring that the land achieves High Nature Status and Priority Habitat.

Building on success

The project is named ‘Three Rivers’ after the Clyst, Culm, and Cranny Brook Rivers which flow through the estate. We're aiming to restore nature and the natural landscape, with a focus on improving habitats for the future. The two-year development stage is already underway.

Killerton is one of only twenty-two places in the UK to benefit from the DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Landscape Recovery Scheme. The estate has been awarded £541,000 to develop plans for nature recovery and build on the success of the award-winning Green Recovery Challenge fund work completed here in 2022. The conservation work delivered by the team at Killerton won the Countryside Management Association’s Gordon Miller Award for improvements made to habitats and the landscape.

Some bird species such as heron, little egret and kestrels have been reported thriving in the newly created wetland area that was part of the previous work, and the team are looking at plans to enhance the estate further for nature. 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 on the estate.

Planning for the future

We aim to restore and create even more areas of priority natural habitat on the 2,500-hectare estate to benefit wildlife and nature, ensuring that the land achieves High Nature Status (meaning the majority of the landscape provides high quality habitat) and Priority Habitat. Priority Habitats are key to ensuring at-risk species are given space to thrive. There are areas of Priority Habitat at Killerton that require conservation action to maintain and improve their condition. This will be in addition to restoring and establishing carbon rich habitats. It will also include planting 600,000 trees, and planting 20km of hedgerows to help tackle climate change by increasing carbon storage and water quality. All of this work not only benefits the estate, but will be a major contributor to the National Trust’s ambition to tackle climate change.

Nature is regenerating

Improving the land quality across the estate will pave the way for more native species such as water voles, bats, butterflies and insects to thrive. Changes implemented through the previous Green Recovery Scheme project are becoming evident. Marbled white and brown argus butterflies have been recorded on the estate; these butterflies are associated with hay meadows. In the newly established and restored hay meadows across the estate, Oxeye daisies and yellow rattle are flowering. These hay meadows were created by sowing wild seed and ‘green hay’ sourced from nearby National Trust Knightshayes.

The wetland areas on the Culm floodplain are now harbouring dragonflies and frogs. The ancient trees on the estate have been given a boost by fencing their root zones, preventing damage from livestock. Barn owls are now regularly spotted on the estate due to a burgeoning field vole population.

A dark brown butterfly wit white marking feeding from a purple thistle
Marbled white butterflies have been spotted on the Killerton estate | © National Trust / Charlie the Volunteer Wildlife Photographer

The Killerton team are looking at plans to enhance the estate further for nature with the Landscape Recovery Scheme. In these two years of development time, a lot of work is going in to monitoring soils, water, and wildlife, to ensure any land management changes made will maximise benefits to all these things for generations to come.

We're working in partnership with the estate farm tenants as their knowledge and experience of the land is invaluable. Phillip Smart, General Manager at Killerton, said ‘We’re working together to ensure Killerton has a sustainable future. It’s important to us that we have a positive relationship with our tenant farmers, and we want to be supportive where we can. It is important that we help them put nature at the heart of managing the land whilst still running successful businesses and producing great food. The conservation work already undertaken across the estate over the last two years has made a significant impact on nature and wildlife in a relatively short space of time.”

Two volunteers  in a field planting hedging with protective tubes on the saplings
Hedge planting on the Killerton estate | © National Trust Images / Fi Hailstone
White background with green text logos for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and  Natural England
The Landscape Recovery programme logo | © Landscape Recovery

Landscape Recovery development work

December 2023

Hairstreak butterfly survey

The rangers doing a brown hairstreak butterfly survey today. It’s easier to search for the tiny white eggs of this elusive butterfly in winter than it is to see the adults in summer. 

Butterfly Conservation ran a training course at Killerton in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust as part of the Saving Devon’s Treescapes project. 

Brown hairstreak caterpillars feed on blackthorn shrubs and the adults use the top of Ash trees to attract mates and feed on aphid honeydew. 

As most blackthorn hedges are flailed every year and ash dieback threatens to wipe out most of our ash trees, Brown hairstreaks are becoming more rare. They’re a Biodiversity Action Plan species and thankfully there’s a healthy population in the wood pasture at Killerton. The team found 6 eggs in a short session this morning, they are tiny and difficult to spot, but under a hand lense they are very intricate and look like little wedding cakes.

Two rangers at Killerton are looking for butterflies eggs
The ranger team surveying the area for signs of butterflies | © Fi Hailstone
A round flat butterfly egg on a twig
The eggs of the Hairstreak Butterfly resemble a wedding cake | © Fi Hailstone - Property Ecologist

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Killerton’s estate is home to wildlife of all sizes and some animals, especially bats and dormice, need a helping hand so are being monitored and protected by the team of rangers.

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Explore the forests, orchards and parkland on the vast estate at Killerton and discover the creatures that live here, from Highland cows and dormice to bats and butterflies.

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Volunteering at Killerton 

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Things to do in Killerton House 

Step inside and explore the country house residence of Sir Francis Acland, 14th Baronet, home of the Acland family from the late 17th century. The house is open daily.

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Grants and funding 

Find out more about the funding the National Trust receives from grants, and the projects it has helped support.