Wildlife Warden Podcast Episode 5

Emily Marbaix is back with another podcast (which you can also read) in which she talks about her latest wild camping trip, orienteering training with Emma Cunis (aka Dartmoor’s Daughter), and notes that 68 wildlife wardens across 34 parishes and wards have received introductory training. There is also:

  • An update on the Wildlife Warden Scheme
  • An interview with Paul Martin of Ogwell-based Ogwild on the group’s experiences so far
  • Wildlife watching and outdoor ideas for the summer holidays
  • Information about Sustainable Bishops’s wildflower art competition, which will be on show on the 11th September
  • Information about Defra’s new campaign, Plant for our Planet
  • Information about the Teignbridge Local Plan Consultation

Wildlife Warden July Newsletter

As usual, it was been a busy month! We are currently writing ACT’s response to the Local Plan consultation, so this newsletter is a little shorter than usual.

Thank you to those of you who have responded to the Local Plan Consultation. This could be our last chance to influence where development happens in Teignbridge! 

If you haven’t yet commented on any sites, you have until midday on Monday 9th August. Here is some guidance on how to comment on ecological impacts.

Rewilding

Two groups of Wildlife Wardens visited Ambios’ rewilding project at Lower Sharpham Farm. We saw how they are using small numbers of Belted Galloway cattle and Mangalista pigs (an old Hungarian breed) to mimic natural grazing and disturbance. As we walked around the site we were lucky to see some of the wildlife that is benefiting from rewilding, including a group of swifts flying over the Dart and some interesting peacock butterfly caterpillars.

In collaboration with the Woodland Trust and Rewilding Britain, Ambios is hosting the Devon rewilding network, which you can join here. It is a place for people to share news and upcoming events about rewilding in Devon.

Read the full newsletter

Last Chance to Influence Where New Housing is Built

You have until noon on Monday August 9th to give Teignbridge District Council (TDC) your views on the 100 plus sites around Teignbridge proposed for new development. If you don’t respond to this consultation you won’t get another opportunity. It is difficult, if not impossible, for plans to be changed further down the line.

Government proposals for a new approach to planning rules will prevent even the local authority from making adjustments in response to changing circumstances in the future. It’s our last chance to influence where new homes are built. You may think your views won’t count. They definitely won’t if you don’t make them known. The more people who respond the better.

The current Local Plan Part 2 consultation follows on from Part 1 in 2020, which focused on the policies that guide developments. The two parts will together form the Local Plan 2020-2040, which will replace the current Local Plan adopted in 2014.

How to respond

The consultation is online at teignbridge.gov.uk and is available chapter by chapter. You can comment using the online survey or the downloadable response form. The survey looks technical, but if you have local knowledge about particular sites it’s vital you share it. You can only comment on one site at a time and give comments in relation to eight criteria, although there is an opportunity to comment on “anything else”. You may want to prepare your comments before you go online and then copy and paste them in. Make sure you go all the way to the end of the survey, even if you don’t give all the personal information requested, and press the Submit button.

The printable pdf form only asks for comments, with no prompts for specific criteria, but you have to print it out to use it or convert it from a pdf to a word document or similar.

It is also possible to download the questions and send your comments by email to localplanreview@teignbridge.gov.uk or by letter to Spatial Planning & Delivery, Teignbridge District Council, Forde House, Newton Abbot Devon TQ12 4XX. All comments made in writing will be considered. 

What to say 

The number of homes proposed for each town or village is stated at the beginning of each ‘Housing Site Options’ chapter. If a town or village has several sites on offer, which together are able to more than cover TDC’s suggested housing numbers for the settlement, then stating in your comments which site/sites would be better is helpful. The suggested general comments below may be useful here.

If you think your village has no allocated sites, make sure it hasn’t been included in Chapter 4 of the consultation, the Heart of Teignbridge. This is true for several proposed sites in Ogwell and Kingskerswell, for example. Check this map to see where all the proposed sites are. You will also need to look at Chapter 9, Employment Site Options, for land which may be developed for employment.

If you have local knowledge of a proposed site, check the information given about it in the relevant consultation chapter for accuracy and omissions. If you have the time and inclination, it is also worth looking at TDC’s assessment of the sites in the appendices to the consultation. Appendix D(a) is for town sites while Appendix D(b) is for villages. To understand the scoring and colour coding for the sites, you will need to go to page 14 of the Stage B Report – Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). To dig further into the scoring assumptions, check out Appendix A. You might need a stiff drink or two to see you through all this!

Here are some examples of the sort of comments you could make on issues relating to wildlife:

  • It is essential that mitigation measures taken to protect wildlife habitats and avoid extinction of local species are completed before site clearance and building starts.
  • All the hedges around this site are biodiverse and should be protected and buffered.
  • A wide buffer strip is needed alongside the public footpath beside the stream, to ensure habitats are connected’.
  • Protect Greater Horseshoe Bat flyways and ensure there is no artificial lighting on the development.
  • Protect the nearby SSSI/ CWS (Site of Special Scientific Interest/County Wildlife Site) from polluted run-off from the new estate.

These are more general comments you could make on the subject of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions:

  • New developments should be about meeting local needs in the most sustainable way. Delivering a pre-set number of housing units to boost the economy should NOT be the driver. 
  • Many of us nowadays live in one or two-person households, so the need is for smaller homes than the three to five bedroom houses typical of new developments. Building on a smaller scale would deliver lower greenhouse gas emissions as well as the housing numbers required. 
  • Greenhouse gas emissions for people living in urban areas in Teignbridge are typically 30% lower than for those who live in rural ones, as is true throughout the UK. The benefits of housing people within, or close to, urban areas are clear. The emissions associated with the provision of goods and services, as well as travel, can be minimised.

You can find more information here.

Wildlife Warden Podcast – Episode 4

This episode brings you: 

  • An overview of a visit from Amanda and Amy from the Devon Environment Foundation, who are one of our main funders
  • Emily’s first experience of wild camping on Dartmoor
  • Advice on wild camping in Teignbridge
  • Information about butterflies and an interview with Amy Walkden, the secretary for the Devon branch of Butterfly Conservation
  • Information about Ogwild’s Rectory Field open afternoon event, which is happening on the 10th of July
  • Information about the Devon Bat survey

Listen here

Wildlife Warden Podcast Episode 3

In the latest Devon Wildlife Warden Podcast, Emily Marbaix brings you details about Churches Count for Nature Week (between 5th and 13th of June) and of a quiz she has put together to quantify how well you are managing your garden for wildlife. There is also:

  • An interview with Flavio, the Wildlife Warden Coordinator.
  • A summery of what Wildlife Wardens have been up to recently.
  • Details about the Wildlife Trust’s 30 days wild challenge.
  • Information about the Avon Valley project.
  • Information about some of the meadows you can visit through Open Meadows 2021.

Why Wildlife Wardens?

In December 2020 I signed up to become a wildlife warden for my parish, writes Emily Marbaix. It’s a scheme run by ACT aiming to help local wildlife survive and thrive. There’s a strong connection between wildlife loss and climate breakdown. They are both outcomes of our exploitation of the natural world and insatiable demand for more stuff.

Wildlife wardens on a training day in October 2020

Scientists often think of the natural world as a web of interconnected species, habitats and resources. Take one away and the rest become less stable. Take away lots and it’s like a Jenga tower teetering on the edge of collapse. Our natural ecosystems are now reaching this point and it’s for this reason that grassroots movements are springing up all over the place, attempting to protect what they can in their local areas. This is exactly what ACT and its wildlife wardens are attempting to do – help to look after their local area, and encourage others to do the same. 

So how and why did I get involved? Well, I went to university to study science and the media in the hope that I could tie together my love of the natural world with my passion for communication and performing. Back then, I had hopes of being the next Attenborough (hey – it doesn’t hurt to dream big!) However, with £20,000 of student loans hanging over my head and a desire to get on the property ladder, I turned instead to the corporate world and pursuit of the almighty pound after a brief stint in teaching. 

Fast forward 16 years and I’m in a more financially stable position, with my son at school and more time on my hands. So when I saw the advert on Facebook inviting people to apply to be wildlife wardens, I thought it was a great scheme to get involved with. I did some basic training via Zoom and started to think about what I could do that might make a difference in Abbotskerswell – the parish I’m attached to. 

We don’t have many publicly owned green spaces in Abbotskerswell, and our local tree warden, Amy, has already assessed these and initiated the planting of a community orchard, which I was thrilled to help with back in 2019. I’ve met with the Parish Council and agreed to help with an update to our biodiversity audit which will include some recommendations/actions with regard to how we can improve these areas for our local wildlife. But the spaces are small and as such are likely to have limited impact as far as mitigating climate change and species loss goes.

I therefore see my position as more of a communication based one. I want to encourage our local community to do more wildlife gardening and engage with conservation efforts in any way they can. This might involve simply signing a petition that will help to give greater protection to threatened species, or taking part in a citizen science project. There are things that we can all do, however big or small, and I see my role as an opportunity to help give people ideas.

I started off by writing a piece for the local parish magazine, which included a poem that outlined lots of different things villagers could do in their own gardens to support wildlife. But then I started to think bigger. What about a podcast? I’d always had a passion for performing and had hosted a radio show at university and loved it – so I decided to start “The Devon Wildlife Warden” podcast. In doing this, I could still create something relevant to our parish, but with the added bonus that it might also reach people from other areas – after all, we want the initiative to spread – and it already is, with people from other districts getting in touch and asking if they can get involved, too – great! 

Whether it’s challenging planning applications, enriching public spaces, helping with ecology fieldwork or simply putting a small dish of water out for thirsty bugs or mowing our lawns less often, we all can, and should do something big or small to help keep the Jenga tower from toppling.

Get in touch if you live in Teignbridge and would like to get involved with the ACT Wildlife Warden Scheme – it is in particular need of wardens for the Dartmoor side of the borough, but there is space for anyone and everyone in the area who would like to help. Visit the website or contact the scheme coordinator flavio@actionclimateteignbridge.org.

* ACT’s Wildlife Warden scheme would not be possible without the generous assistance of: Devon Environment Foundation; Teign Energy Communities’ Community Fund; Cllr Jackie Hook’s DCC Locality Fund; Dartmoor National Park Authority’ the Nineveh Trust; anonymous donors. Many thanks to all.

Wildlife Warden April Newsletter

A lot has happened this month, as we have finally been able to get outside and meet up in small groups, which has been really nice. It is not only us that have been busy; I have two nest boxes in my garden that are being used by house sparrows, with parents going back and forth constantly, and I am very excited to see them fledge over the next couple of weeks!

Aquatic invertebrate identification training
I was fortunate to attend one of these training sessions, which were led by the very knowledgeable Dave and Sue Smallshire. It is always a bonus when you see lots of wildlife you weren’t expecting to see. On the way to the training site, we had to walk around Stover Country Park’s main pond and were greeted by a kingfisher, and a basking terrapin! The water was very clear (because of the lack of rain), giving us a rare view into the underwater world. A couple of pikes were lurking in the shallows and lots of swan mussels could be seen. The invertebrates also didn’t disappoint. My favourite was a caddisfly larva, encased in a fascinating portable shelter, made from silk threads and pond debris.

Thank you, Dave and Sue, for running these sessions. I know I learnt a lot! Also, many thanks to Stover Country Park for providing the kit and allowing us to use the site.

Devon Reptile and Amphibian Group
The Devon Reptile and Amphibian Group (DRAG) provide training  in reptile and amphibian surveys. They also organise surveys and are involved in habitat management. Follow this link if you would like to sign up to DRAG or find out more about them. I recently helped Rob (the chair of DRAG) to put out reptile survey mats and was lucky enough to see a couple of common lizards basking in the sun!

Read the full newsletter

Choose peat free compost this spring

It’s spring, writes Lucy Oldroyd. The cold winds have passed. Surely, that is the last of the severe frosts. It is time to get planting! Trays of bright bedding at the supermarket, at the garden centre entice. Now for the compost. The bags are almost as bright as the bedding plants, but which one to choose? Which one is cheapest? Three bags for how much?

We are a clever species. We know the price of everything. But do we know the value of a bag of compost? A bag of dirt. It is trivial. Isn’t it?

How about the value of a peat bog? Less than one tenth of England’s lowland peat bogs remain. A scarce habitat home to unique animals, plants and insects. An important feeding and stopping-off point for native and migrating birds. A crucial factor in flood mitigation soaking up rainfall to release it back slowly. A huge store of trapped carbon, laid down over millennia. But as soon as the peat begins to drain, it begins to oxidise and emit that carbon back out again.

Our peatlands are the UK’s largest store of carbon, estimated at around 3.2 billion tonnes. That is more than all our forests. New licenses for harvesting peat are no longer issued by the UK government but extraction at existing sites will continue for years to come.

But we need peat to grow our plants don’t we? The Royal Horticultural Society disagrees and is working with exhibitors to transition towards no peat use at its shows by 2025. The RHS does not sell peat based composts and its nurseries and propagation areas are predominantly peat free. It is working with suppliers to replace peat-grown plants with peat-free ones in its gardens and to eradicate peat use in the plants it sells. 

Mark Gush, RHS head of environmental horticulture, estimates the RHS to be 98% peat free, the exception being some special collections. But do those of us without a national collection of pitcher plants or sundews really need peat? The RHS has lots of information on using peat free composts available on its website. 

The peat industry and the garden centres are wringing their hands. But this is so sudden, we need more time, they say. More people are gardening because of the pandemic so there is more demand. This is all eye-wash. Geoff Hamilton, of Gardeners’ World, began campaigning against peat in the 1990s. In 2011, the government set voluntary targets to end sales of peat-based compost for domestic use by 2020. It’s been a dismal failure. Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, says: “Countless promises have been broken and targets missed, with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.”

We are a nation of gardeners (not shopkeepers as Napoleon famously jibed). What power can a nation of gardeners show? If we cannot move mountains we have the power in our wallets to save peat bogs. We can petition the UK government to rescind peat extraction licenses. But that is a minor source of the peat in those gaudy plastic bags at the garden centre. Most of the peat we buy comes from Ireland or Europe. Here is a chance for UK gardeners to show leadership. What a role model for the world if we boycott peat! Let’s send a clear message to leave it in the ground. This spring don’t buy compost with peat. If the bag does not clearly state ‘Peat Free’ then it contains peat. 

Jessie Stevens eloquently stated the case against peat in her recent column ‘Call to Change’ (1st April) in the Mid Devon Advertiser and called on gardeners to begin a new era of gardening. Let us follow her call and now act for change.

Your choice this spring. What will you value? What will you save? Will you save a few pennies for a few bright ephemeral primulas? For a few pence more you can help save a unique habitat, an ecosystem, an irreplaceable source of biodiversity, a carbon store. What will you choose this spring at the garden centre?

Please sign the petition ‘Ban the use of peat in horticulture and all growing media by 2023’.