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North Devon Grasslands project

Wildflowers with a view of the view in the background
Wildflowers overlooking Putsborough beach | © NTI/Joshua Day

We are working on a ground-breaking project to create new species rich grassland across 70 miles of the North Devon countryside, from Torridge to West Exmoor, including Arlington Court. The project, due to be completed by 2026, will help us rise to the challenge of both biodiversity loss and climate change. This is a long-term sustainable approach to give the North Devon grasslands the best chance of becoming abundant in wildflowers and a robust habitat for nature.

Why are wildflower grassland areas important?

Flower-rich grasslands are very rare – we’ve seen a 97% loss of these habitats over the last century. Wildflower meadows now cover a mere 1% of our island and need our urgent attention.

Wildflower rich grasslands are a cornerstone habitat, providing an important nectar source for pollinators, hunting grounds for Greater Horseshoe bats and cover for Hares. Wildflower grasslands also create healthy soils, natural flood defences and healthy diverse recreational space.

What are we doing in North Devon?

The National Trust aim to reintroduce species such as Yellow Rattle, Knapweed, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lady’s Bedstraw and Yarrow to create a Lowland Meadow Priority Habitat. In turn this will provide a food source for Common Blue Butterflies and Red Tail Bumble Bees, Greater Horseshoe Bats and Short Eared Owls.

Alongside the benefits for nature and wildlife, the project will create open, accessible, beautiful, nature-rich places for everyone to enjoy. All the recently sown sites have public rights of way nearby, making it easy for visitors to spend time immersed in nature in the North Devon countryside.

Person filling the spread with seed on the left and the machine spreading it across the field on the right
Filling a seed spreader with wildflower seed and spreading on Woolacombe Down | © NTI/Joshua Day

Future of the project

By 2026, we will have placed the equipment, skills, and experience in our Ranger team to harvest and collect seed from local wildlife rich habitats. This long-term sustainable approach will give the grasslands the best chance of becoming abundant in wildflowers and a robust habitat for nature. In addition, we are growing wildflower seed donor sites. These are highly abundant areas of wildflowers, that will provide a sustainable long-term source of wildflower seeds. Within 2-3 years of sowing wildflower donor sites, Rangers can begin to collect seed of some species to introduce wildflowers and create new habitat for wildlife. Every hectare of donor site harvested will provide enough seed to sow two more hectares. Our ambition is to create 1,275 hectares (3,151 acres) of habitat, including grasslands, by 2030.

Choosing the right seed

The types of wildflowers sown at each site have been chosen to complement the existing ecology. For example, at Woolacombe we’ve sown species such as Kidney Vetch and Viper’s-Bugloss to suit the sand dunes and clifftops. These species are good for blue butterflies, especially the small blue, which is rare in the West Country. The meadows will also attract many important species such as voles, pollinators, and bats as they grow.

The carefully sourced seed has been sown using two different methods. The majority has been sown by machinery to make the scale of the task achievable. However, where access has been difficult, teams of staff and volunteers have sowed the seed by hand.

Bumblebee feeding from yellow rattle wild flower at Bath Skyline, Somerset
Bumblebee feeding from yellow rattle | © National Trust Images / Sara Strawson

A buzz about the place

Bumblebee conservation and grassland conservation go hand in hand, each depending on the other to maintain functioning plant-pollinator networks.

The North Devon coast is home to some rare bumblebee species, including the brown-banded carder bee, which relies on extensive flower-rich grasslands to survive. This project’s location overlapped with the West Country Buzz project, which presents an exciting opportunity to restore large areas of flower-rich habitat at a landscape scale – something which is key for helping the recovery of our pollinators and nature.

We’re working closely with our neighbours to carefully collect seed from existing local species rich grassland. We thank those who have kindly let us access their land to gather increasingly rare species.

The team has worked closely with staff at National Landscapes, which has contributed £15,000 through the Finding Nature’s Footprints project.

To continue this vital work, we are still fundraising to a target of £70,000.

Timeline of Grasslands project

October 2023

Sowing of locally harvested seeds

33ha of wildflower poor grassland on the North Devon Coast have been sown with seed harvested locally by Rangers. Without the North Devon Grassland project this would have cost between £118,000 and £170,000. There is significant financial and ecological risk with regularly purchasing and sowing this quantity of seed. The project aims to make introducing wildflowers to existing degraded and newly created habitats business as usual for the Rangers. Making the practice ecologically and financially sustainable.

Buggy pulling a trailer in a field overlooking the sea.
Brush harvesting Yellow Rattle seed | © NTI/Joshua Day

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