Please note this is a closed site with no public access except during organised events.

Buckfastleigh Rocks! A disused quarry unearths a history of ancient wildlife.

Location

South Dartmoor
Nr Buckfastleigh
Devon

OS Map Reference

SX 744 644
A static map of Higher Kiln Quarry

Know before you go

Size
5 hectares

Entry fee

No

Parking information

Car parking space close to the William Pengelly Cave Trust Education Centre at SX 744 655

Grazing animals

Yes

Access

Permit required

The site has restricted access but there is a public footpath that runs along either edge of the reserve. Contact the Trust for disabled access information

Dogs

No dogs permitted

When to visit

Opening times

Restricted access. Contact the Trust for times or to arrange a visit.

Best time to visit

Spring/ Summer

About the reserve

Standing at the reserve entrance presents views of the tall limestone cliffs, which are 350 million years old.

Galleries of ivy-leaved toadflax, wall pennywort, shining crane's-bill and maidenhair spleenwort dot the rockface of what is one of the largest exposed limestone outcrops from the Devonian period, on which the geological strata and faultlines can be clearly seen.

 

Contact us

Devon Wildlife Trust
Contact number: 01392 279244
Dog violet at Bovey Heathfield

When the reserve is open, the boardwalk path winds through an atmospheric, prehistoric-feeling, shady woodland of ash and sycamore, richly clad in ferns and mosses, where the high quarry cliffs concentrate shadow and moisture. Among woodland flowers such as wild garlic and dog violets, damp conditions give rise to pockets of marsh bedstraw, brooklime, watercress and temporary ponds surrounded by willow.

Caves at Higher Kiln Quarry nature reserve

Higher Kiln Quarry. Photo, Duncan Gray

Pleistocene Park

The boardwalk passes a number of grilled cave entrances; the River Dart, once flowing at the level of the clifftop 50 metres above, gradually carved out this cave network in the limestone over many centuries 250,000-120,000 years ago. In 1939-1941 scientific excavations revealed an exceptional collection of over 4000 fossil mammal bones from animals which roamed here during the last Ice Age, 100,000 years ago.

This was a time of warmer Mediterranean climate between glaciations, home to hippopotamus, brown bear, spotted hyena and lion, and now extinct species of giant deer, straight-tusked elephant, bison and narrow-nosed rhinoceros. 16 different species are represented, forming the richest known assemblage of Pleistocene interglacial fossil remain in Britain.

Cave shrimp

Cave shrimp. Photo, Lee Knight

To the bat cave

A special survivor from this ancient world still lives here today: the tiny, 4mm long blind cave shrimp Niphargus glenniei. First discovered in 1948, with a population thought to have existed since before the last glacial period, this species is endemic to Devon and the south west of England, found nowhere else in the world.

Greater Horseshoe Bats in cave

Great horseshoe bats. Photo, Colin Morris

The cave network is crucially important for other rare wildlife. In winter the biggest and most significant colony of greater horseshoe bats in the country, and possibly in Europe, hibernates in the caves, joined by lesser horseshoe and other bat species. Look out for the bats at dusk on warm summer evenings when they emerge to hunt insects such as cockchafer beetles, moths and dung flies.

Coming to the end of the boardwalk, you might imagine bats once flew over hippo, rhino, bison and lions where cows now safely graze the pastures above the caves.

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