Wildlife Wardens gather to celebrate and say farewell to Flavio

Teignbridge Wildlife Wardens enjoyed their first Big Gathering on January 29th, as 50 of the 100 plus team of wardens came together in the Teign Valley, writes Scott Williams. They convened at Oxen Park Farm, Higher Ashton, on a cold Saturday morning.

The venue is the location for Teign Greens, local food growers, and On the Hill Camp, a great organisation that educates school groups, universities, adults and families to live healthily and in harmony with nature.

This was the first time the Wildlife Wardens had had a chance to come together since the scheme was set up more than two years ago, so it was a happy occasion. However, the gathering’s mood was slightly tempered as it was also an opportunity for the wardens to say farewell to Flavio Winkler Ford, the scheme’s co-ordinator, who is moving on to a job in Scotland.

Flavio said: “We never managed to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Wildlife Warden Scheme in October, so we organised a big gathering in January. There is a lot to celebrate! We now have over 100 Wildlife Wardens, and we are really proud of everything that you have achieved.

“Audrey was awarded Radio Devon’s Make a Difference Award for her work on the WW Scheme, and the Devon Local Nature Partnership awarded the Teignbridge Wildlife Wardens the ‘Special Award’ at their Community Wildlife Awards evening. Ogwild and Exminster Green Spaces also won awards. Well done everyone! Your hard work is being recognised.”

Host for the day, Jo Clark, made everyone welcome as they gathered in one of Oxen Park’s spacious rooms. ACT’s Audrey Compton spoke briefly about hedges and the new ones that she and John had planted last summer at their Teign Valley farm, and managed to keep alive in the drought.

 Audrey had also invited two interesting speakers to further the group’s hedge and tree knowledge. First up was  Shira Rub, a Wildlife Warden from Ashton, who spoke about her work surveying hedgerows. Then Dominic Scanlon spoke about trees and hedges. Dom works for Aspect Tree Consultancy and has also worked for Teignbridge District Council. He spoke about the importance of trees and hedges, and planting new ones, as well as legislation such as Tree Preservation Orders.

There was then a moment to thank Flavio for all his great work in the last few years and wish him all the best in his new role.

After a delicious homemade hot soup, there was an opportunity to enjoy a tour of Oxen Park Farm with Jo and Dom to see the ponds, a charcoal maker (Jo brought it from nearby Embercombe), new fencing, not to mention some beautiful countryside.

The farm has thousands of new tree plantings, and the group learnt about the problems of local deer who like eating new saplings. They also heard about and inspected old deer park walls, found an ancient oak and saw the new orchard – word is the inaugural Wassail will be next year!

The venue proved to be a perfect location for the gathering, and the range of homemade cakes the Wardens contributed were well received. The first Big Gathering was a great success and it’s hoped it will now (at last) become an annual event.

The Wildlife Warden Scheme is run by Action on Climate in Teignbridge’s (ACT) Ecology Group, supported by Teignbridge District Council, Devon Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust and Devon Biodiversity Record Centre. Founded just before the pandemic the volunteer, parish-based, Wildlife Warden Scheme was started to help our wildlife survive and thrive and to mitigate the Ecological and Climate Emergency.

Scott Williams is a Dawlish Wildlife Warden and publisher of Reconnect magazine

ACT: three years and counting!

On April 18th 2019, Audrey Compton was standing outside Forde House, the home of Teignbridge District Council (TDC), with a group of people holding banners. They were there to lobby the council to pass the climate emergency declaration proposal put forward by Councillor Jackie Hook. 

“We really didn’t think it would pass, but it did, unanimously, and with an amended carbon neutral target date of 2025, which was quite a surprise,” says Audrey, a Teign Valley farmer and environmental campaigner.

That target date was the most ambitious in the country, says Fuad Al-Tawil who was also at Forde House that day. “We thought it would be tough for the council to meet that target so suggested setting up a support group.”

The suggestion was welcomed, and Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) was formed in the summer of 2019 following a public meeting in July at Coombeshead Academy in Newton Abbot attended by about 200 people. 

Fuad says: “The idea was to support TDC to deliver on its climate emergency declaration and to work with community organisations in Teignbridge, including parish and town councils, as a bridge between them and TDC.”

New ways of working

A voluntary organisation working with a district council was a novel idea – unique even. Fast forward three years and how has that worked out? Well, the monthly meetings still happen and ACT has given freely of its expertise and opinions, which appear to be valued. It has at times offered a critical voice, and remains completely independent of the council. “We have built a good and pretty unusual relationship with the council,” says Fuad.

Kate Benham, ACT chairperson, says it has been a learning curve for both parties. “The council moves slowly, which can be frustrating, but it’s a case of understanding what it can and can’t do.”

ACT members join Councillor Jackie Hook and council officer Will Easton to view work on renewable energy projects at the Teignmouth Lido in July 2022

Andrew Shadrake, a founding member of ACT, believes ACT has kept the pressure on the council: “Things have happened that wouldn’t have happened without us. We offer a resource, particularly on technical knowledge, that TDC relies on.”

However, the reality remains that carbon emissions have barely budged. Says Fuad: “ACT has  succeeded in doing what we set out to do, in terms of supporting the district council and engaging the community. But in delivering on what matters, carbon reduction, we haven’t succeeded.”

Action on nature and carbon

ACT has had success on the ecological front, in particular with its Wildlife Wardens scheme, launched in the autumn of 2020. There are now 100 volunteer wardens spread across Teignbridge who have received training and do what they can to help wildlife in their parish.

Wildlife Wardens being trained to complete surveys by the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre

“It’s been twice as successful as I ever hoped,” says Audrey, who set up the scheme and runs it with Flavio Winkler-Ford, a part-time paid coordinator.

“The great thing is wardens follow their own interests rather than ACT telling them what to do,” she adds. 

Spurred by the success of wildlife wardens, in early 2022 ACT launched the Carbon Cutters initiative in a renewed effort to move the dial on carbon emissions. Trying to achieve this through engaging with local councils has proved tough. ACT will continue to work with councils, but will concentrate on engaging with community groups for the Carbon Cutters scheme.

“We are working with around 13 groups so far,” says Kate. “They are hugely enthusiastic and really want to help.” The scheme is run by part-time paid coordinator Peta Howell, with the help of a group of ACT members.

Still going strong

Demonstrating the global carbon budget at the Energy Roadshow in September 2022

Three years since launch, ACT still has a core group of enthusiastic, ambitious and committed people, and a wider membership of close to 450. That’s an achievement in itself, says Andrew.

Moreover, with Wildlife Wardens, and now Carbon Cutters, “we have tested and succeeded in developing a model for people to take action. We have also demonstrated a way of moving a district along, and raised the profile of climate change in the community.”

Flexibility is a key strength. “We are an evolving organisation that is learning all the time,” says Kate. “It’s good that we’re not afraid to change direction if we need to and try new things.” Mandy Cole, a psychologist who volunteers with ACT says it’s also important that “we don’t tell people what to do. We listen and learn more about what would help them to do more about climate change.”

There is also the personal reward for ACT members that comes with taking positive action, working with like-minded people and just having fun. For Audrey, “the last three years with ACT have been the most productive of 20 years of campaigning on climate change”.