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Our work at Watersmeet

Rangers leading a group of visitors on guided walks around Watersmeet during the South West Outdoors Festival, Devon
Rangers leading a group of visitors on guided walks around Watersmeet | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

It's all part of our Ranger Team’s daily work, but we thought you might be interested to find out about some of the tasks they’ve been undertaking at Watersmeet over the last few years. From woodland management to preserving Iron Age hillforts, our work is important and ongoing, and we’re always on the lookout for volunteers to help out – contact details at the bottom for anyone who’d like to apply.

Woodland management

We've been working on a huge programme of rhododendron control to allow the natural ground plants, and some rarer species like Irish spurge, to flourish. The rare whitebeam tree also grows in the valley, so special care has been taken to create nearby glades to give it the light to flourish.

Footpath work for visitor access

With about 70 miles of footpaths to care for, a lot of our time during summer is spent maintaining them. Every mile has to be strimmed and some paths need to be levelled to combat erosion and improve access.

Repairs also have to be made to gates, benches, signposts and steps along the paths. This work is often only made possible with the assistance of numerous volunteer groups.

Ranger sawing a fallen tree at Penrose, Cornwall
Ranger sawing a fallen tree | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Rock works

The main road above the Watersmeet Valley contains vast outcrops of geologically important rocks. These make the valley look spectacular, but also need to be carefully monitored to ensure that they are safe.

As well as being constantly monitored by Rangers there is also a major survey carried out each year. Following the survey we may remove trees, topple rocks to a safe place or add netting and pins to secure and stabilise some rocks.

Moorland management

Every year we undertake the historic practice of ‘swaling’. This is where an area of the moor is deliberately set on fire to control the growth of gorse and to allow the heather a chance to grow.

This is important work as good-quality coastal heathland is rare. It’s a challenging task as it can only be done in late winter when the weather is suitable.

Volunteer ranger burning scrub at Little Haldon, Devon
Volunteer ranger burning scrub | © Valda Smith

Preservation of hillforts

This area has four Iron Age hillforts which are of historical importance. We have carried out survey work to establish the forts' history and to preserve them for the future.

Our management involves cutting grass, but more importantly cutting bracken as the roots can damage the archaeological features.

Protecting Exmoor

The National Trust cares for 55 per cent of the Exmoor coastline which lies within Exmoor National Park, stretching from Watersmeet and Countisbury in Devon to Somerset's sweeping Holnicote estate in the east of the national park.

The changing climate is an important issue for us, as it has an impact on plants. Up to 75 per cent of heather has been lost on the hills at the Holnicote estate due to a combination of summer drought and damage from the heather beetle, which is able to thrive due to warmer winters.

Our ongoing aim is to reverse the decline of nature on Exmoor and the surrounding area by improving the land, encouraging sustainable farming and working with local people and partners to create more wildlife-friendly ecosystems.

If you are interested in volunteering and contributing to our important work with the West Exmoor ranger team, please get in touch with ranger Dan (Heddon Valley) or ranger Jack.

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 house at Watersmeet surrounded by bright orange autumn trees

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