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Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area


View Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area's own website here

What is a NIA?

The Nature Improvement Area (NIA) Programme consists of twelve projects which have secured funding after a competition announced by Defra in the Natural Environment White Paper (2011). NIAs are large areas where local partnerships have an ambitious shared vision for their natural environment.

We're achieving big things!

But don't just take our word for it! The Northern Devon NIA project has commissioned a film about farming within the River Torridge. In a world where farming and the environment are often portrayed by the media to be in conflict, this film gives a different view. Listen to local farmers talk about how farming and wildlife can work well together, to the benefit of both. Watch the short film here.

Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area

The Northern Devon NIA is one of 12 nationally important new landscape scale wildlife schemes across England. It was developed as a partnership project within the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This partnership consists of 16 organisations. Devon Wildlife Trust is the project’s lead partner.

The Northern Devon NIA covers 72,000 hectares. This catchment-scale project is of critical significance and benefit to both wildlife and people. It aims to restore and re-create a wildlife-rich area across Northern Devon’s unique and internationally important Torridge river catchment.

The first phase of the project will run for three years to March 2015. The partnership intends that the NIA’s work will continue for many decades to come, to deliver a sustainable, vibrant and healthy living landscape.

This project has been supported by Defra, DCLG, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Natural England.

Wildlife in the NIA

The Northern Devon NIA sits wholly within the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and supports spectacular and unique wildlife-rich landscapes. However this landscape faces threats from climate change, changing land management practice which often leads to abandonment. It is these threats which the project aims to tackle.

The Northern Devon NIA hosts 35% of the UK’s remaining Culm grassland, 120 scheduled plants and animals, and important populations of two of Europe’s ten most threatened species – the marsh fritillary butterfly and the freshwater pearl mussel.

What will this project do?

The project aims to restore a robust environment throughout the Torridge catchment. It will work in partnership with landowners, farmers and the wider community to enhance farmland and woodland habitats.

The partnership will:

  • Restore internationally important habitats such as Culm grasslands, wetlands, neutral meadows, woodlands, hedgerows, rivers and streams within this rich farmed landscape.
  • Use innovative land management techniques to re-create threatened grasslands
  • Help to improve the management of water courses
  • Restore stretches of river for the endangered freshwater pearl mussel
  • Stimulate the development of a local woodland economy
  • Engage with the local community through a diverse programme of events and activities

    For a report on the progress of the project over the past 2 years, see the NIA report here

How the project is funded

  • NIA_wet_woodland

    This groundbreaking new initiative would not have been made possible without the generous support of the following organisations. For more information about the project and to get involved please contact 01392 221823.


Latest project news:

November 2014 update

Find out more about the work we and Devon Wildlife Trust have done and plan to do on the Culm in our new 20 page colour brochure 'The Culm: a landscape that works'.

July 2014 update

The Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA) project is now well into its third year, and making excellent progress towards its aspirations of a wildlife-rich landscape in the river Torridge catchment. So far the project has restored over 1200 hectares of Culm grassland, advised 213 farms and held 101 community events. Huge thanks and congratulations to all the landowners, local people and organisations who have helped to make the NIA such a success to date.

A full assessment of the first two years of the project can be found in the new NIA report above.

November 2013 update

The Northern Devon NIA team is continuing in its mission to transform the river Torridge catchment for wildlife and people! Believe it or not, we are now halfway through our initial three year project funding. We’re starting to see impressive results both from the staff team and the wider NIA partnership, which is 16 organisations strong.
So far, we have restored over 750 hectares of culm grassland, and we have about 100 hectares of wetland and woodland creation achieved or in the pipeline. We have restored 43 kilometres of hedgerow and influenced land management along 31 kilometres of river. NIA advisors have visited over 10% of the catchment’s landowners, 425 visits in all. During the summer we have also surveyed for marsh fritillary and freshwater pearl mussel (photo, right) and have a much better picture of the status of these two key species.

On the community side, we have held over 50 community events, taken 21 school groups out on site and helped to set up two community woodlands. We have developed curriculum materials for schools which are now being trialled by schools across the NIA project area.

You can find out more on the NIA website, or contact the NIA manager, Lisa Schneidau, on 01409 221823. Watch this space for news of more wildlife work, Beaford Arts performances, woodland events and more!

March 2013

The Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area project is nearly one year old! This important initiative covers over 72,000 hectares and the majority of the river Torridge catchment. The project will restore and recreate wildlife habitats over the next three years. It is one of only 12 initiatives in England funded by Natural England, the Environment Agency and Devon County Council, designed to achieve radical, joined up, long term change for wildlife. The Northern Devon NIA is delivered through the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and Devon Wildlife Trust is the lead partner.

A team of six DWT staff, led by the project manager Lisa Schneidau, are working with 16 other organisations and many local people to restore and recreate wildlife habitats, and encourage community action for habitats and species. The NIA are building on the good work achieved through the Working Wetlands project to restore over 1600 hectares of culm grassland and wetland, plant over 200 hectares of new woodland, connect habitat for the marsh fritillary butterfly, and help the freshwater pearl mussel to thrive again. Importantly, the project will also work to identify and make the most of the many benefits wildlife habitat brings to the community, from clean water and carbon storage to tourism and woodfuel.

We have achieved a great deal already, in the first year of the NIA. Advisory site visits with landowners, and helping with grants and capital works, have been our main way of securing habitat restoration and re-creation, with over 140 site visits and around 350 hectares of habitat restored so far, and woodland planting underway. Action plans have been put in place for our two priority species, the marsh fritillary and the freshwater pearl mussel. Landowner training days were held on habitat restoration techniques, woodland planting, resource protection and soil management. Advisors in the catchment met to co-ordinate the advice provided to landowners. Research was undertaken on the role of wetland habitats in managing water in the Torridge catchment.

Over 30 events were held with local communities, and 15,000 hectares of the area were covered through Parish Biodiversity Audits as a useful resource for local environmental action. Arts projects were started, and 15 school groups visited the river Torridge with a storyteller to develop their own stories about ‘Giants in the Forest’. Eight practical habitat management days were completed by volunteers, and our plans for community work in 2013 were developed with the help of a new Community Forum.

Already a number of new projects are developing within the Northern Devon NIA beyond our original aspirations, including DWT’s nature reserve purchase and restoration at Meeth, a major new community arts project, and three university studentships. As we move into year 2 we are resolved to meet our original ambitious targets, and to develop the NIA according to the expertise and opportunities available.

If you live in or around the Torridge catchment and would like to get involved, the NIA team would like to hear from you! Contact us at  If you would like to be on the NIA volunteers list please contact or visit our volunteer opportunities page.

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