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Bovey Tracey Local Group


Throughout the year this group arranges a series of indoor and outdoor activities that are open to all and are advertised in Devon Wildlife Trust's events leaflet and on the events webpage.

Nature reserves

The nearest nature reserves to this Local Group are Bovey Heathfield (pictured above), Chudleigh Knighton Heath, Little Bradley Ponds, Emsworthy and Mill Bottom.

Previous talks and walks

Shine a light: the impact of night lighting on wildlife- Wednesday 12 February

Dr Fiona Matthews, senior lecturer in mammal biology at University of Exeter drew our attention to a source of anthropogenic environmental pollution that is not widely acknowledged, namely the artificial lighting installed to light our way in the darkness. We were shown charts documenting the spread of street lighting over the last century or so and satellite images of Europe with large areas of nighttime illumination. Dr Matthews explained some of the difficulties involved in researching the effects of artificial lighting on wildlife, including the different forms of lighting, each with a distinctive wavelength pattern.

Dr Matthews’ main interest and enthusiasm concerns bats. She explained that some bat species, such as pipistrelles, may benefit to some degree from artificial lighting, in that the many insects drawn towards the lights serve as a convenient buffet for the bats. Other species are ‘light shy’ and are likely to be adversely affected, in that they avoid otherwise suitable feeding habitats. Greater and lesser horseshoe bats are of this type, and we were shown the results of research comparing lit and unlit habitats that confirmed their avoidance of the former. Such findings are of value in relation to planning proposals for new housing or commercial developments, which almost inevitably involve artificial lighting (a recent housing development in Chudleigh being a commendably light-free example). Even though such schemes may not be on ecologically sensitive sites they may block vital corridors between feeding sites for bats. We were reminded that we all can play a role in limiting nocturnal light pollution, and may wish to reconsider the use of security lighting, for example.

Dartmoor's wildlife: bugs, butterflies & birds - Wednesday 8 January

On yet another of this year's wet January evenings, Bovey Tracey DWT Local Group welcomed a capacity audience for Professor Charles Tyler, of Exeter University. While Professor Tyler's professional speciality is fish contaminants, his private enthusiasms are photography, and the scenery and wildlife of Dartmoor. 

He described his presentation as a photo-essay of a journey around Dartmoor, and after a brief introductionCuckoo_Andy_Stuthridge he showed us around its various habitats: moor, farm, woods, water, bog.  Designated a national park in 1951, noted for the range in elevation and a mild climate, it is a special landscape, with 41 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as well as traces of human activities over the centuries.  Changes over the years in climate, vegetation and human use have resulted in the loss of species, and he cited red squirrels,black grouse and red kites as recent losses and, longer ago, mammoths.  Some are returning, and while we may see red kites again, we are unlikely to encounter mammoths on Haytor.

Charles had a wonderful collection of photographs, admirable for the composition as well as subject matter.  Many hours of patient waiting for the right moment with the right light to capture his subject have been richly rewarded, whether the flight of a flock of golden plovers, an adder basking in sunshine, a slug-eating beetle, leopard slugs, wasps burying weevils, a silver-studded blue butterfly, or a young cuckoo in the nest.  Particularly fascinating were the sand wasps, which catch caterpillars and bury them in holes, and the extraordinary potter wasps.  I was also interested to learn that jays help the spread of oak trees by burying acorns, while squirrels bite the ends off their buried nuts, so they don't germinate.

Most of us who enjoy the moor only ever catch a glimpse of the wildlife that makes its home there as we pass over it.  It was a privilege to see photographs of what we miss, and an encouragement to be vigilant for what we might see on our own visits there - a reminder to enjoy our adventures with ears and eyes open. Charles ended by looking to the future of the moor, reminding us of the continuing pressures of climate change, farming, burning and tourism, and the need for protection of this special habitat

The future of our marine environment

There was a good attendance at the last meeting for the year on 4th December, and the audience was rewarded with a most informative talk by Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, on the state of marine conservation around Britain. Obviously it’s part of the job for any CEO to be a good speaker, but his enthusiasm was also very obvious, and the informality of his style and the ease with which he spoke were both engaging and very well suited to the local group meeting.

With the aid of excellent photographs, he told us about the areas which the government have chosen asCorkwing_Paul_Naylor Marine Conservation Zones, and those which DWT and other conservation groups would like to see protected by legislation. He showed us some of the plants and creatures which are particularly at risk, and graphically described the threats to the marine environment from various quarters, such as pollution, fishing and climate change. I was particularly fascinated by the beauty and diversity of the marine species around the Devon coast, many of which look far more exotic than I had imagined would live in our waters.

The Peregrine Falcons of St. Michael’s Church, Exeter: an illustrated talk by Nick Dixon - Wednesday 13th November

There was an excellent turnout of in excess of 60 people to hear Nick’s fascinating insights into the lives of these Peregrine_falcon_juvenile_Neil_Aldridge_cropextraordinary birds. We were treated to some wonderful photos of their behaviour and their amazing aerobatic skills. Nick has been studying them in detail since their arrival in 1988.Tales of picking through piles of the maggoty remains of birds that had been consumed by these raptors was not for the squeamish, but it did give us a clear picture of the detailed research undertaken over the last 15 years by Nick and his colleagues. They are incredibly skilful and successful hunters. Believe it or not they have recently been seen to take down young Buzzards flying into their territory. The good news is that the population of Peregrines in the UK is on the increase and within the context of this, the birds nesting in Exeter have successful reared nearly 50 young over the years. If you want to observe these birds for yourself (and I will be in the future) then go to the top of either Mary Arches or the Guildhall car park and train your binoculars on the church spire. Good luck!

Why do we care about animals?- Thursday 10 October

At our first indoor meeting of the winter, we looked at a different perspective of the animal world - animal welfare. This is a subject that interests us all, but how many of us ever wonder who were the pioneers and what motivated them? Dr Richard Ryder, a prominent animal welfare campaigner himself, was able to give us a detailed history describing attitudes towards animals, from the early times of Pythagoras and Buddhism, to the first UK legislation against animal cruelty in 1822.  The Victorians saw further developments, and the battle continues today.  It was fascinating to hear about the role played by so many determined reformers over the centuries, including prominent people such as William Wilberforce, George Bernard Shaw, Robbie Burns and Charles Darwin. The subject certainly caught the imagination of the audience, as the discussion following the presentation went on for some time!

Guided visit to Pengelly Caves - 14th September

Greater_horseshoe_bat_Hugh_ClarkThirty keen DWT members were expertly guided around these fascinating caves and their surroundings by Sheila Phillips of the Pengelly Caves Trust. Their secluded aspect gives no indication of their tremendous significance - they are both Sites of Special Conservation and of Special Scientific Interest and are managed jointly with Devon Wildlife Trust. They are one of the most important sites for Greater Horseshoe bats in England - this species and other species that live there are supported by the conservation work of local Devon Bat Groups and DWT. (Photo, left: Hugh Clark).

Our tour included the history of the Saxon church, severely damaged by fire in 1992 as well as the legend and folklore surrounding the tomb of the Cabells which later became the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. As we walked, Sheila gradually revealed the geological history of the surrounding landscape that stretches back 350 million years and includes the formation of coral reefs in the warm shallow seas of the Devonian period. These reefs later became the thick beds of limestone of Buckfastleigh Hill and then in more recent times through erosion, the cave system as known to-day. Pengelly and other dedicated explorer geologists started mapping the caves on and off from the late 1700s but it was during the 1930s that the 4000 bones of the Joint Mitnor Cave were discovered by another committed band of geologists. These are the bones of animals of the warmest part of the last interglacial period of around 120,00 years ago and have given us a hugely important picture of environmental conditions at that time - very similar to those found on the plains of East Africa! The tour concluded with a visit to this cave and we were able to observe carefully excavated bones as well as examples of the geology so comprehensively explained to us by Sheila.  

This was a very stimulating visit and Sheila, a volunteer is a fantastic guide. There is an interesting museum on-site that can be visited most weekends during the year when there are organised activities while the guided tours can be booked from April to mid September. For more information visit

Dragonflies of Chudleigh Knighton Heath - Saturday 27th July

Despite weeks of glorious sunshine the weather for our meeting with Dave Smallshire from the British Dragonfly Society was overcast, with even a few spots of rain which, I have to say, some of the five small ponds on Chudleigh Knighton Heath could well do with, and more! However, dragonflies require warmth in order to fire-upAzure_Damselfly_ATaylor_small their flying muscles and so the nineteen of us found ourselves looking at damselflies, while their larger cousins sulked in the nearby vegetation. We saw the Common Blue, Azure, Emerald and Blue-tailed damselflies and Dave was adept at carefully catching these in order to instruct us as to their colouration, gender differences and lifestyles. Males are more in evidence and altogether flashier and they are chiefly interested in mating – a process which, for the Blue-tailed damselfly, can take up to six hours.

Whilst on Chudleigh Knighton Heath we also observed a range of other wildlife, including Bog Pimpernel, Marsh Pennywort and Sneezewort, but the most exciting aspect was a noisy aerial display by three Peregrine Falcons who were enjoying themselves chasing a flock of racing pigeons.

Dave then took nine of us on to Little Bradley Ponds, where there is a far larger expanse of water which is home to many water lilies and also the insectivorous Greater Bladderwort that fortunately prefers to feed on water fleas rather than dragonfly or damselfly larvae. Here again we were able to observe Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed damselflies, but I don’t recall the Emerald damselfly putting in an appearance this time. Butterflies were out and about, with the Green-veined White and Silver-washed Fritillary on display, and of the many birds in attendance I would pick out two Treecreepers for a special mention.

Snakes Alive –  Saturday 29th June.

Led by Malcolm Billinge with Linda and Colin Corkerton, an enthusiastic band of just over twenty people of all ages met up by the entrance to Bovey Heathfield on a warm and sunny morning. After a short introduction, by Malcolm, to the origin and history of the Heath everyone split into three groups, each group being led to different parts of the Heath.

Linda’s group were dipping the ponds for creatures from the (not so) deep. To complement the beautiful damsel and dragon flies flying across the water we managed to locate in our nets a range of water beetles, damsel and dragonfly larvae, water boatmen, caddis fly larvae and assorted worms. We also saw palmate newts in profusion in the slightly acidic waters of the ponds.

Colin regularly checks for reptiles on the Heath and keeps a count for DWT, as a consequence he has an assortment of small felt and corrugated iron mats dotted across the heath. Under these we found both adder and grass snake together with slow worms.

Malcolm’s group crossed the road to another smaller section of the Heath reserve which he manages and monitors for DWT. Again in the warmth under tiles and sheets we found slow worms and as a bonus a small lizard basking in the sun on a wall.

Many thanks to our intrepid leaders for an excellent and informative morning.

Wild flowers walk - Tuesday 25th June

Red_Campion_David_KilbeyOver forty people of all ages came to the ‘Flowers of an Ancient Hedgerow’ meeting in Bovey Tracey on 25th June. This was a joint event with The Devonshire Association Botany Section.  Frances Billinge led a short evening stroll along Marsh Path, by kind permission of Mr and Mrs Tebbit. Fifty-five species of common hedgerow plants were identified including Lamium  album (White Dead-nettle), Geum  urbanum (Wood Avens), Smymium olusatrum (Alexanders), Silene dioica (Red Campion), and Scrophularia nodosa (Common Figwort). The group were amazed to find so much growing in just a few hundred yards. The reconnoitre had found nearly a hundred species, but given the number of attendees and the hour’s length of the walk it was possible only to point out half of what was there - many said they would visit again later to try and identify the rest. The children who attended were most interested to find so much, and one of them won the competition that was held to see how many plants we would name on the night. We then looked at two gardens managed in contrasting ways for wildlife, and were kindly entertained to a cream tea by Sue Simmons and Roger Croot.

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