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North Devon grasslands project

A ranger in a red fleece casts flower and grass seeds by hand across a coastal field at Woolacombe, with the sea, a sandy beach and a headland in the background
Hand-sowing seed including kidney vetch and viper’s-bugloss, to create species-rich grasslands near Woolacombe in North Devon | © National Trust Images/John Miller

We are working on a ground-breaking project to create new species rich grassland across 70 miles of the north Devon countryside. The project, due to be completed by 2030, will help us rise to the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change.

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.

At its best, an expertly managed and well-established grassland will create healthy soils that are far more resilient to drought and floods. These colourful and species-rich habitats are also perfect for protecting many of our threatened plants as well as the wildlife that rely on them.

What are we doing in North Devon?

Over the next 8 years we'll be creating pockets of species-rich grassland across 70 miles of North Devon, from Torridge to West Exmoor.

86 hectares (213 acres) of land has already been sown with 1.3 tonnes of specially selected seed. These fields (equivalent to 120 football pitches) will become ‘donor’ sites, which will produce the seed needed to improve the variety of wildflowers in 1,275 hectares (3,151 acres) of grassland, over 8 years (equivalent to 1,786 football pitches).

This will be a big step on our journey to create 25,000 hectares of priority habitat on the land in our care by 2025.

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.

A man riding a quadbike in North Devon, sowing wildflower seed mix.
Mix of 30 different wildflower seeds including knapweed and birdsfoot trefoil are being sown at Arlington Court in north Devon to create donor field | © Joshua Day

Choosing the right seed

The types of wild flowers 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 establish.

The specially sourced seed has been sown using two different methods. The majority has been mechanically broadcast to make the scale of the task achievable. However, where access has been difficult, teams of staff and volunteers have hand-sown the seed.

The remaining area of land will be sown using seed from the newly created ‘donor’ sites mentioned above. Every hectare harvested from a donor site will provide enough seed to sow two more hectares so that by 2030, 1,275 hectares (3,151 acres) of grassland will be sown with seed from the local area.

Throughout the seasons

Once the seed starts to grow, sheep will graze the sites to keep the grass short over the winter months. They’ll move to other grazing sites in the spring, allowing the wild flowers to grow tall and bloom from May to August, before returning after the summer harvest.

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 overlaps with our 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.

The team has worked closely with staff at the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which has contributed £15,000 to the project.

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