Dartington has a small but wide-ranging conservation programme overseen by Estate Warden Mike Newby and carried out with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers.
Our activities are centered around protecting and fostering creatures and wildlife native to the estate, including dormice, bats, many bird species, ancient trees, and wildflowers, and encouraging new visitors where appropriate.
If you’re interested in being part of the amazing work being done by our conservation team, visit the Volunteer Hub for more details. And don’t forget to check out Mike’s excellent Conservation Diary.
Take a look at our gallery and read the accompanying captions to find out more about the species and areas impacted by our work.
Helping wildlife thrive
In 2015, Dartington introduced a 'Dog Policy' to support our wildlife conservation and to reduce the spread of disease amongst livestock on the estate. Special dog-friendly areas were introduced and dogs were required to be on leads in certain areas elsewhere.
Kingfishers are one species who benefit from the policy as they nest in rivers banks, and dogs running up and down the river bank off-lead can have a detrimental impact on their breeding. These amazing pictures were taken by Alan, a volunteer with a special license from Natural England to photograph breeding Kingfishers.
Find out more: Read Community Resilience (Food & Farming) Manager Harriet Bell's blog about why the dog policy is crucial to the wellbeing of wildlife and livestock at Dartington Read the Dog Policy here (pdf)
Bird nesting boxes
For 30 years, Dartington has been voluntarily monitoring bird nesting habits for the British Trust for Ornithology, feeding the progress of nests into a national survey.
We have nearly 40 nesting boxes in Dartington Hills plantation and the surrounding area. In late winter and early spring Estate Warden Mike, assisted by conservation volunteers, checks the boxes on a weekly basis and documents the results.
Find out more: Read Estate Warden Mike Newby's blog about keeping track of nesting birds at Dartington
Environmental Stewardship at Dartington
In 2013 we successfully joined Natural England's Environmental Stewardship scheme (now the Countryside Stewardship Scheme). This is a land management scheme that provides funding and incentives to farmers and other land managers in England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.
Dartington has entered into an Higher Level Stewardship (HLS ) scheme, which puts the emphasis on enhanced environmental benefits and can also target vulnerable or endangered species. At Dartington, we are hoping to improve the habitat for two key species, Cirl Buntings and Greater Horseshoe Bats, but there will be wider benefits for all forms of wildlife across the core estate.
Find out more: Read Estate Manager John Channon's blog about our HLS involvement
Image: Cornwall Life
Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment – such as climate change – which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. That’s why counting butterflies can be described as ‘taking the pulse of nature’.
The Dartington butterfly survey is carried out from May to September each year. Our volunteers walk the same transect each week – a circular route that takes about 1 hour 20 minutes to complete. In just one week in 2015, an astonishing 245 species of butterfly were recorded at Dartington.
Find out more: Read Volunteer Manager Sonja Hughes' blog about our butterfly and bird nesting survey programmes.
Endangered eels pass installed at Bidwell Brook
An eel pass has been installed at Bidwell Brook in Dartington to enable young glass eels, known as elvers, to migrate upstream unimpeded.
The action is part of a ‘European Union recovery plan for eels’, following scientists’ estimate that, across Europe, glass eel numbers have now fallen to less than 5% of their 1980s levels.
The Dartington Hall Trust has been working with Westcountry Rivers Trust since 2013 to improve eel migration over the weir and upstream habitat, after the Environment Agency highlighted the waterwheel sluice and weirs on the Bidwell Brook at Lower Tweedmill as a barrier for eel migration.
Find out more: Read more about this project and how the runs work.
Dormouse nesting and conservation programme
Dartington's Conservation programme builds and installs nesting boxes for dormice, helping protect one of Britain’s most endangered mammals and ones whose deciduous woodland and hedgerows habitat are being lost. They are assisted in this work by students with learning disabilities from Lifeworks College, as part of a programme which builds greater independence along with crucial life and work skills.
Our team also replant dormice sites with hazel to give them food and cover from predators. The nesting boxes provide shelter for these nocturnal animals and a place to rest in a deep sleep state during the day.
Find out more: Read more about our work on this project with LifeWorks College.
Agroforestry on the estate
The internationally renowned Agroforestry Research Trust has been based at Dartington for many years, and a variety of approaches to agroforestry can now also be seen across the estate at Schumacher College, Huxhams Cross Biodynamic Farm and a 48 acre silvoarable agroforestry field at Old Parsonage Farm.
Dartington’s promotion of agroforestry is based on the evidence that it may be one of the farming techniques which aid our landscape in tackling the contemporary challenges of climate change and food scarcity as it has the potential to increase farm productivity, reduce soil erosion, reduce surface water runoff (flooding), provide greater support to wildlife and a more sheltered environment for livestock as weather patterns become more extreme.
The fruit seen above is Sorbus devoniensis – the only tree native just to Devon. It is thought to be a hybrid of whitebeam (Sorbus aria) and wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis), and they grow in only six known sites in the world, one of which at The Agroforestry Research Trust. Find out more: Read Community Resilience (Food & Farming) Manager Harriet Bell's blog about what agroforestry actually is, and why it matters
Uncovering Dartington’s hidden kingdom
Dr Martin Luff is an entomologist who volunteers for Dartington’s Woodlands & Conservation team. For over five years, he has been monitoring beetles on the Dartington estate - work that is vital to our understanding of the wildlife that exists here.
Martin says: "Why beetles? Well, they are the largest group of named organisms on the planet; there are more than 4,100 species in Britain alone. They are the ultimate convertible – they have juvenile stages (larvae) that do not resemble adults and can therefore inhabit different environments (unlike grasshoppers and true bugs), but they can also fold their wings away under wing cases when not flying".
Find out more: Read a special guest blog from Martin about his work - and how he turned a deer’s untimely demise into a valuable learning opportunity.
Caring for veteran and ancient trees
Veteran trees are several hundred years old, and ‘ancient’ trees even older – 500 years and beyond. Our estate has a relatively large number of both – usually oaks - and various mapping projects have been undertaken in order to protect them.
Veteran trees are of great value to wildlife, but they also have immense sociological and historical benefits. With the help of volunteers, the position and details of the trees is entered into our estate’s digital mapping system, with the intention of contributing data to the Ancient Tree Hunt report.
Mike Newby, Dartington’s Estate Warden, supervises a team of 6 regular volunteers. He says: “Not only do humans benefit from our efforts but also bats, woodpeckers, moths and invertebrates, especially beetles and lichen, which can only be found on veteran trees – and many lichens are associated with indicating types of pollution."
Lesser Horseshoe bats
Dartington has a number of bat roosting sites on the estate including Aller Park, Lower Tweedmill and Dartington Lodge.
Dartington's Aller Park building is home to a colony of very rare Lesser Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus hipposideros) - a threatened species. We work with the Devon Bat Project to understand how to care for them - for example not disturbing the winter hibernation of the bats, as the subsequent energy used emerging from their resting state can be fatal.
Other bat species recorded at Dartington include Common Pipistrelle, Whiskered Brandt's, Brown Long-eared, Natterer's, Greater Horseshoe (we don’t think they roost here but they use the estate for commuting and foraging), Soprano Pipistrelle, Noctule and Myotis.
In 2015 our brilliant volunteer team led a project seeding the Postern Path, which runs along the Lower Drive near Schumacher College, with wildflower seeds.
This was part a national campaign by Grow Wild UK which aimed to encourage communities across the UK to transform local spaces by sowing, growing and enjoying native wildflowers. In the UK, we have lost 98% of wildflower meadows since the 1930s, which is impacting populations of butterflies, bees, pollinating bugs and birds.
Find out more: Read Volunteer Manager Sonja Hughes' blog about our wildflower project
Protecting trees, organic crops and biodiversity
At Dartington, we like rabbits and squirrels as well as dormice, birds and trees. We also want to help our tenants make a living out of small-scale farming. In line with all landowners, farmers, foresters and allotment holders, we have always accepted that squirrels and rabbits will cause a certain amount of damage to trees or crops.
But rising populations of these animals on the Dartington estate mean that things are out of kilter. Squirrels are damaging trees and rabbits are eating our tenants’ organic crops, both in increasing numbers, and we have been asked by tenants and woodland managers to take action.
Estate Warden Mike Newby says: ‘Oaks can live up to 300 years, but all big oaks fall eventually. We are trying to grow replacements but all the young broadleaves we’ve been planting in the last 30 years throughout the estate are being attacked by grey squirrels. There’s terrible damage visible especially on the oaks and chestnuts in North Wood (see image above). Grey squirrels have no natural predators and are breeding to very high numbers.’ Small-scale management of squirrels and rabbits by experienced individuals therefore takes place at Dartington to address this issue. We use a combination of methods including trapping using Kania traps and shooting, assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Find out more: Read our detailed report on squirrel and rabbit damage and the steps we take to manage this.
New and ongoing projects
Queen's Marsh restoration project
Queen’s Marsh is an exciting restoration project aiming to enhance wetland habitats for wildlife, enhance public enjoyment of the area, and reduce potential future flood risk.Find Out More