May 2015 update

CDE_Dartmoor_Ponies_-6The management of Bicton Common has seen a radical change over the last month, with the site being grazed for the first time in living memory. Grazing of the commons would have been practised by the commoners of old, and provides one very useful management technique. In April 25 Dartmoor ponies were introduced onto the site, with these animals  joined by 25 cattle (Angus, Devon and Hereford breeds) in early May. Over the coming months these animals will be helping us manage the site for wildlife by controlling scrub and grass growth. We have been monitoring the welfare on a  daily basis, and all animals have settled in well to their new environment. They will be removed in the autumn. A number of the animals are fitted with GPS collars as part of a science project investigating the beneficial impact of these grazing animals on the site. Open public access across the site remains the same. Thank you to everyone who has ensured that the gates remain closed during this summer grazing period, and for ensuring that their dogs are kept under control in the vicinity of the animals. Your support is very much appreciated. A second year of monitoring over 120 vegetation plots that forms part of the science grazing project will begin in June. On Colaton Raleigh common our annual temporary grazing loop has once again be erected in the mire, and a number of cattle will graze this area from the end of May until September, as they have for the last decade.

 During May over 100 primary school children from Woodbury School were hosted on Bicton Common by staff from the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust. We were very lucky with the weather for each of the day visits, with the educational focus of the trips being how to create and use wildlife identification keys, undertaking plant diversity surveys in two different habitats (mire and dry heath) and learning about how differences in biology between cattle and ponies influence their grazing behaviour. The concept of controlled burning (swailing) and its importance to heathland management was also introduced.

 We have now entered into the wildlife survey season. Already the first round of Dartford warbler surveys has been completed and population numbers continue to rise which is excellent news. In June we will start to focus on other rare species including the Silver-studded Blue and the Southern Damsefly. A draft report collating all the biodiversity records for the Commons was completed earlier in the year and reveals that the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (i.e. the commons!) supports over 3,000 species, over 10% of which have high conservation value. The work illustrates the incredibly high wildlife value of this site of European conservation value. After a period of scientific review we intend to place this document in the public domain in the autumn.

 Thanks also to the many people who have reported illegal incidents to us. The last few months have been relatively quiet, thankfully with little fly-tipping, although there was one incident of vandalism of the signs and newly installed dog bins at Woodbury Castle. This damage has now been made good. The dog bins remain a popular addition to the car parks, and we have received many notes of support. Dog fouling on the Commons, the most common complaint of visitors, and has been reduced. A request to those of you who enjoy  dog walking on the Commons, please do remember to pick up after you. This greatly improves the environment for other users. Thank you!

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