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Our work at Lydford Gorge

Three rangers working from ropes on the steep slopes of Lydford Gorge, Devon
Rangers working in the challenging environment of Lydford Gorge, Devon. | © National Trust/Mel Peters

Lydford Gorge is the deepest river gorge in the South West and filled with rare temperate rainforest. It formed over thousands of years by the action of the River Lyd eroding down through the rock to create the gorge you see today. However, this action, and the steep slopes and thin soils of the gorge, make it vulnerable to climate change. Find out how we’re adapting to extreme weather and protecting rare habitats.

What's open at Lydford Gorge in 2024

The Devil’s Cauldron trail

This circular one-way route, which takes around 45 minutes, is the best way to explore the deepest part of the gorge known as the ravine. Here the river plunges and tumbles through narrow gaps and into deep potholes. The rock faces are covered with life and constantly drip with water. To view the Devil’s Cauldron, head just off the main route and brave the narrow rock steps to access the viewing platform suspended over the river.

The waterfall trail

This circular route, which takes around 1 hour, is a wonderful woodland walk. The 30m-high Whitelady Waterfall can be found at the bottom, and depending on the recent weather it can be a gentle cascade down the rock face or a crashing flow of white water. In spring the woods are filled with wildflowers, during summer the whole gorge is enclosed in the green leaves of the trees making it feel like a magical world, and in autumn it turns golden-brown.

Please check with the welcome team on the day for when other seasonal routes are open.

What's different?

Climate change is the single biggest threat to the places we care for. Here at Lydford Gorge extended periods of drought and heavy rain have taken a toll on the thin soils and steep slopes of the gorge. It has required increasing costly interventions, in both time and money, to open safely to visitors each year.

The path along the river, between Whitelady Waterfall and Pixie Glen, has suffered several significant landslips in recent years and we’ve made the tough decision to close this route.

Two beautiful walks remain open allowing everyone to explore the temperate rainforest and enjoy the towering Whitelady Waterfall and unique Devil's Cauldron.

Lush mosses and other epiphytic plants growing on a branch in the Borrowdale temperate rainforest
Lush mosses and other epiphytic plants growing on a branch in a temperate rainforest | © National Trust Images/John Malley

Protecting the temperate rainforest at Lydford Gorge

Temperate rainforest is a globally rare habitat that covers less than 1% of the planet. These wet and wild ancient woodlands capture carbon and are one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth, home to a host of wildlife, including some rare and special species.

Some of the biggest threats to temperate rainforest in the UK are climate change, invasive species, and tree diseases such as ash dieback.

Excluding people from this section of the river will leave space for nature to thrive.

  • There are internationally rare lichens on the trees. Floury dog lichen has been found in Lydford Gorge, but only grows on ash trees.
  • We can leave damaged, diseased or dangerous trees to decay naturally in areas not accessible to people. This helps to provide habitat for a whole range of species.
  • Rare mosses and ferns grow on the rocks next to the river which can be easily damaged by trampling. We have the nationally scarce river pocket-moss, among others, growing in the gorge.
  • Many of the birds that live by the river such as dippers, grey wagtail, and kingfishers have declined recently. A reduction in disturbance will give these species a better chance to breed.

Can we still see the temperate rainforest?

The whole gorge is a temperate rainforest. The trails that take you to the Devil’s Cauldron and Whitelady Waterfall both have some lovely temperate rainforest habitat.

The Devil’s Cauldron trail is better to see lower plants like mosses, liverworts, and ferns, that love the damp and shady environment there.

The Waterfall trail is better to see trees and plants, especially wildflowers in spring, that thrive in the humidity created by the waterfall.

Stream flowing through lush moss-filled valley towards Lydford Gorge, Devon
Lush green growth covers every surface in Lydford Gorge | © National Trust/Dianne Giles

Other ranger plans

With the section of river path closed the rangers will continue to look after the gorge but will also have more time to improve the special habitats it contains.

  • They'll be updating the woodland management plan, which will be informed by more specialist surveys of the species found in the gorge.
  • They will be tackling invasive species such as rhododendron and looking at ways to mitigate the effects of others.
  • They will look to create a diverse woodland with a range of trees of all ages by protecting veteran trees and promoting natural regeneration of young trees.
  • They are moving towards using fully locally-sourced, hardwood timber in the gorge. Chestnut and oak can be used untreated which is much better for this delicate environment. Other treated timber that is already in use is removed from site at the end of its life.

Our carbon footprint

At Lydford Gorge we’re working towards the National Trust goal of being carbon net-zero by 2030. We use two methods of renewable energy and since 2011 we've heated the buildings at the Devil’s Cauldron entrance using a biomass boiler, which uses local sustainable wood from National Trust land around Dartmoor. In 2012 solar panels were installed in the orchard to generate electricity. The rangers have taken the opportunity to switch over to more battery-powered equipment which can be charged on site, plus have switched to more environmentally friendly fuel for other tools.

We’re also looking for further ways to reduce our carbon footprint through the products we buy and our ways of working. A team of staff and volunteers meet regularly to discuss ways for us to take climate action.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

The base of Whitelady Waterfall in spring as it flows down the moss covered rock face into a deep pool, Lydford Gorge, Devon


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