Dartington’s wetland to spring back

Since publication, this project has progressed and some of the below information may be out of date.

Find out more about our Queen’s Marsh restoration project here ⇒

The Dartington Hall Trust is conducting a feasibility study into the restoration of Queen’s Marsh field, made possible by the generous support of a Natural England Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) grant.

The study will explore how best to restore a former tidal creek where Bidwell Brook joins the River Dart near Dartington. The reclamation would seek to enhance wetland habitats for wildlife, and enhance public enjoyment of the area.

Edge of Queen's Marsh, Dartington in flood, 30 Feb 1967
Edge of Queen’s Marsh, Dartington in flood. Photo: Leonard Elmhirst, 30 Feb 1967

We need your help

Have you seen interesting wildlife at Queen’s Marsh, either now or in the past? And do you have photographs of standing water in the field? Or perhaps you even know of a drawing or painting of the former tidal marsh? We’d be extremely grateful if you were to share such memories and images with the team so they can build up a picture of the wetland’s former status to guide their restoration work. If you can help, please contact info@dartington.org

In particular, Dartington is keen to increase the botanical interest of the meadows, exploring ways of improving the habitat for wetland birds, otters, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and bats. It would also like to explore the potential for installation of bird hides, viewing platforms and interpretation boards.

Following a tender process, a team of ecologists, fisheries scientists, hydrologists and land/catchment managers has been appointed to assess the site and report by December 2015 on the best option to restore the wetlands. The project team is led by the Cornwall and Devon-based West Country Rivers Ltd (trading arm of charity West Country Rivers Trust), working with the Environment Agency, Natural England and environmental and hydrological scientists from Thomas Mackay Ltd.

Once the feasibility is completed, we will be looking for future opportunities to engage the community. It is hoped that the project partnership will then be able to act on the results of the study using funding from the Environment Agency to restore it as a wetland in 2016-17.

Map showing location of Queen's Marsh
Map showing location of Queen’s Marsh

Upstream on Bidwell Brook, a second collaborative research project led by Plymouth University (IMIXSED project) will be looking at land use and river sediment to explore how Queens Marsh is connected to the wider landscape. This is part of an EU funded project to develop tools to manage soil erosion for global food and water security in which visiting Tanzanian and Ethiopian scientists will test techniques to be applied overseas.

The tidal connection between the river and the marsh was lost after the installation of Totnes Weir during the 17th century. Bidwell brook is largely now disconnected from the adjacent flood plain. The site was designated a Country Wildlife Site in the 1970s, but since then its biodiversity value has significantly reduced.


Have you seen interesting wildlife at Queen’s Marsh, either now or in the past? And do you have photographs of standing water in the field? Or perhaps you even know of a drawing or painting of the former tidal marsh? We’d be extremely grateful if you were to share such memories and images with the team so they can build up a picture the wetland former status to guide their restoration work. If you can help, please contact info@dartington.org

Thanks to Gillian Cartwright for sending in this fantastic image of Queen's Marsh in flood!
Thanks to Gillian Cartwright for sending in this fantastic image of Queen’s Marsh in flood!

12 thoughts on “Dartington’s wetland to spring back

  1. I can remember travelling from Totnes to school in Buckfast in the late 60s and the excitement as the water came closer and closer to the main road after a lot of rain. Perhaps we were hoping the road would be closed and we would be unable to get to lessons!

  2. The Queens Marsh originally Buckham’s Bay. Queen Elizabeth 1 was supposed to have come up as far as the Queen’s Arms by boat and was taken by horse and carriage up to the Hall. The drive up then being through the now copse.

    Queen Elizabeth seemed to have had a lot to do with Dartington as it is also mentioned in the Church records that she had a Beacon Keeper’s cottage built on Yarner Beacon to keep the men warm in inclement weather as they watched for the smoke signals to say the Spanish Armada was approaching. There is only one of these round cottages still standing that I know of which Martin Hesp visited and wrote about in the WMNs.

    Bidwell is an Anglo Saxon word for Bide well and we can just imagine the sailor’s wives or sweathearts waving and saying “Bide well.” as they set off on their voyage out to the open sea. This of course was way before the first weir was built in about 1584 turning the Bay into a wetland.

    I also have a copy of an old post card in which the writer asks how the big ship The Great Harry bearing Richard 11 got under the bridge in Totnes to Buckham’s Bay. I tried to find out more about this and discovered that Lord Buckham had a fleet of ships docked at Plymouth and probably used Buckham’s Bay as a safe haven maybe. It also made me wonder if Buckhams barn had in fact been one of his homes as he seemed to own not only the Bay, but also much of the surrounding land. Dartington Hall then being entered via Staverton and the rest of the land being small hamlets and farms.

    As a child brought up on the estate and my step father Bill Parnell being the foreman of Barton Farm. I remember when he set to making drainage dykes in the Queens Marsh to try and stop the lower drive from being flooded in the winter plus the lodge and thatched cottage. They even got a digger into the Bidwell to try and make it deeper and wider, but it still flooded.

    As a child in the early fourties we used to see an old wooden hull of a large boat sticking up in the marsh roughly opposite the old Queen’s Arms. The continual rubbing by the Bullocks finally made it disappear altogether.

    The Elmhirsts at one time considered turning it into a boating lake to train Sea Scouts. Myself I would love to see it turned into a lake with a wild life Island in the middle. Of late I have seen several Egrets and other wild fowl visiting when it is in flood. It is so sheltered that I am sure it would encourage far more wild life and be a birder’s paradise. A few hides and more seats it would be a wonderful place to unwind and just sit, look and listen instead of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Stover Park has done it. Why can’t we. It would be amazing.
    All the best
    Pamela Sandry Gorman

    1. What a splendid memoir. I too remember the fifties. What a pity we didn’t really enquirer into all this the. Yes the Queens Marsh as a wildlife reserve and lake would be a magnificent social asset to the area. How about it Trustees?

  3. I grew up in Dartington village in the 1950s and fished for trout and eels regularly in the Bidwell Brook, mainly by the Textile Mill. I also used to catch sticklebacks in the meadow in the drainage channels near the bridge by the Lodge.

    1. I have fond memories of the Bidwell Brook and Queens Marsh areas, having been born in the Puddavine area (adjacent to Queens Marsh in the 1930’s, lived in the area for forty years before moving to Totnes but maintaining strong links with the area having worked on the Dartington Hall Estate for over forty years.
      I also have memories of the regular winter floods, the wildlife, and the development of modern (20th century) farming and land management , with a staff of twenty five or so managed by Leonard Elmhurst and his officers.Unlike the handful of staff today.
      Photographs are not too plentiful as we did not have access to digital cameras and the instant reproduction of day to day activities.

  4. I remember catching and marveling at caddis fly larvae from the drainage channels that used to be at the lower end of Queens Marsh. This was in the early 1950’s, with my mother and sister.

    Interested to hear about this new plan for the meadow. Looking forward to hearing more.

  5. I lived in Bidwell Cottage, at the bottom of Vineyard Hill ( next to the now defunct Queen’s Arms pub) which overlooks the Queen’s Marsh, from 1973 until 1985. The Marsh was often covered by water, populated by geese, ducks, seagulls and herons.One year we woke up to find the marsh had turned white , due to the emergence of thousands of mushrooms. During one dry year the skeleton of a boat/barge emerged from the turf. We were told that before the weir was constructed barges/boats would moor up at the bottom of Vineyard Hill to load wool which had been brought down from the moor ( along the Old Buckfastleigh Road) through Staple, where there is still a cottage where( we were told) cider was told to the drovers.
    I used to fish for trout in Bidwell Brook as it ran through the marsh ( my son caught a 2lb rainbow trout in the brook just opposite our house)

    1. egrets are frequently seen on Queens Meadow, and are now quite common around here, but this was the first place I and many others saw them in the UK. it obviously suits them.

      1. Yes, I first became aware of the Little Egrets at Queen’s Marsh … and at Bigbury, around the same time … about 25 years ago, I would guess. Now I hear they are in many places on the south coast, but I am sure Dartington must certainly have been one of the very first places to host them.

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