Category Archives: Flora & fauna


Hannah Hereward surveying. Photo by Benjamin Cowburn

Hannah Hereward is a Marine Biology Masters student, from the University of Plymouth and Marine Biological Association. She is also a marine intern with A Rocha UK. A Rocha UK work in partnership with Lee Abbey Devon to conserve wildlife and habitats at this Christian conference centre on Exmoor National Park’s North Devon coastline.

The first aim of Hannah’s studies was to identify the diversity of habitats and species at Lee Bay, Lynton. Hannah found 17 habitats and 110 species. Secondly, she identified the seasonal patterns of growth rates and abundance of a large, brown seaweed (oarweed, Laminaria digitata) and its UK primary grazer, the blue-rayed limpet (Patella pellucida). The oarweed’s peak growth was in May, with maximums of 2cm per day! The blue-rayed limpet abundance peaked in the summer, with maximums of 47 on one oarweed.
Oarweed & blue-rayed limpets. Photo by Hannah Hereward.
Seaweed habitats are critical for carbon absorbtion and as habitat for many species. Reducing pollution on the coast and mechanical damage are important conservation measures.
Why not head down to the coast this summer, at low tide, to explore the wonders of this marine forest and surrounding rocky habitats.
PHOTO at top: Lynmouth Bay kelp beds (photo: Hannah Hereward)


The fifth wildlife training programme for Exmoor is now under way. As with previous years the range of topics is diverse – from bats to bees and butterflies – as is the level of training provided. From wild flower identification for complete beginners to advanced mire vegetation monitoring, there is sure to be something for everyone.

Some of the events provide specific survey training, including surveys for nightjars, marine mammals or glow worms. Formal surveys carried out by trained volunteers provide valuable information for the conservation of Exmoor’s wildlife. We are immensely grateful to all volunteers for the time committed to this important work.

In contrast, some of the events are ‘discovery’ sessions which aim to provide an introductory insight into some of Exmoor’s fascinating but perhaps less well recorded wildlife, such as dragonflies, lichens and fungi. Although there is no formal survey to follow these discovery sessions, Exmoor National Park hopes that participants will feel inspired by their new knowledge and will continue recording wildlife on Exmoor.

The events delivered through the training programmes have proved very popular so, to avoid disappointment, make sure you book your place early. To find out more about the training events or to book a place visit

Wildflower training event- photos by Bea Davis


As it is that time of year, we thought people might like to re-read Rosemary FitzGerald’s article about bluebells, which appeared in our spring issue last year. Rosemary contributes articles about gardens and ecology to most issues of the magazine. And you can read all about her here.

An archetypal scene – ‘Bluebells’ from a set of British flower stamps issued in 1979 (designer: Peter Newcombe).

In 2002 the conservation charity Plantlife organised a national poll for people to vote for their ‘County Flower’.  Somerset’s, unsurprisingly, is the Cheddar Pink, but the Bluebell votes were so many that it became specially rated as ‘Britain’s Favourite Flower’.  It has iconic status in the British flora, and is clearly deeply loved, so it is surprising to find that its nature and existence are beset with problems and, although it seems common, it is seriously threatened in global terms.

Even its botanical name seems hard to interpret. Hyacinthoides non-scripta, a hyacinth without writing on it?  The origin comes in the ‘not-many-people-know-that’ category – Linnaeus, the great namer of plants in the eighteenth century, had the kind of classical education rarely acquired now, and knew the touching myth of the god Apollo’s cry at the death of his lover Hyacinthus.  The heartbroken sound is transcribed by the letters Ai, visible, with a little imagination, in flowers of the true Hyacinth, so he named our unmarked Bluebell, which is in the same family, ‘without writing’.

Barton Wood about half way between Rockford and Watersmeet, a mile or so upstream from Watersmeet House on the East Lyn River. Photo by Andrew Wheatley.

Bluebells grow throughout Britain and Ireland, in woods and hedgerows, on cliffs, among bracken, in permanent pasture, on roadsides and railway banks, in a wide range of habitats (only really excluding fens and bogs).  We are used to seeing flashes of blue from trains and motorways, as well as close to home, and think the species abundant, and it is, still, in these islands.  But there is a scary aspect to this abundance, because we have more than half of the world’s Bluebell biomass, and are crucially responsible for its future.  Bluebells are a real oceanic species, loving our damp Atlantic climate.  They are found in parts of France and the Netherlands and in cooler corners of Spain and Portugal.  The distribution forms a thin band across Europe, just reaching the Italian border but not dropping south of the Mediterranean or extending north into Scandinavia, and Britain and Ireland have much the most substantial populations.

So we can be deservedly proud of our national favourite, but we also need to become more conscious of its threatened status, and do
what we can to sustain healthy populations.  The dangers are various, but the biggest general heading must be ‘management’.
Bluebells are hardy plants, with populations surviving for years in stable situations.  In fact, they are thought to be allelopathic, producing chemicals at bulb level which discourage competition from other plants.  They endure wind and cold, and can even manage years with inadequate light levels.  Deciduous woodland with plenty of light in early spring is ideal for them, but they flourish under management such as coppice rotations where growing trees make increasing shade for years and the ground flora has to wait for a clear-felling phase to bring proper daylight back.  Bluebells in such
woodlands can endure 17-year cycles or even longer, making spectacular appearances when the shade is removed.  So the species does what it can to help itself survive, but an insidious modern threat is lack of management.

Bluebells also thrive on coastal cliffs, such as this site looking down and across into Watermouth Harbour with Widmouth Head centre shot, Burrow Nose tucked behind and the Hangmans in the distance. Photo by Craig Joiner. This was our cover photo for spring issue 2016.

A common misapprehension about nature conservation is that ‘leaving it to nature’ is the best idea, but plants like Bluebells have flourished throughout history, since shortly after the ice sheets retreated, with a great deal of intervention from humans, and our actions have become important to their survival.

A highly publicised threat in recent years is the possible corruption of ‘pure’ Bluebell woods with strains of garden hybrid origin.  This can happen (though for me suitable management must always be the most crucial factor).  Plantlife really raised the matter, in 2003 and 2004, and were very successful in making a wider public aware of ‘Bluebells In Need’.

Being ‘hybridised out of existence’ sounds wonderfully apocalyptic, and gave a dramatic focus, but all too often the biggest danger is ignorant and careless management by landowners, and equally ignorant and uncaring management by intensive farmers.  Many such people would claim to be in favour of keeping their Bluebells, but traditional management costs money, and has to be properly understood to be effective. Sites can sadly be lost or damaged by default rather than deliberate destruction.

Spot the difference: the true Bluebell has deep blue narrow bells (by Bob Gibbons, Natural Image).

The hybrid question can arise because in the seventeenth century nurserymen, especially in London, were importing many plants from the Continent.  One of these was Hyacinthoides hispanica, the Spanish Bluebell, which proved easy to grow and popular.  It has a sturdier stem than our native, with wide-open flowers which look outwards rather than having the graceful droop of wild Bluebells.  Colours are variable, with many shades of blue, and white and pink occurring quite commonly.  Many old gardens had it, and bees do buzz, and a fertile

But Spanish and Garden Bluebells have paler, outward-facing flowers with light-coloured anthers (by Bob Gibbons, Natural Image).

hybrid H. x massartiana (sometimes called the Garden Bluebell) readily occurs.  Both the Spanish and Hybrid varieties are vigorous, and almost impossible to get rid of once established, so near Bluebell woods there is often some introgression, but a sudden dramatic takeover is unlikely!  A bulldozed ancient hedgebank, or a once-managed woodland now choked with brambles or laurels, are much more probable disasters.

There is another threat of which gardeners in particular need to be aware.  The ‘wild’ gardening style is hugely popular now, and a little Bluebell wood in the shrubbery is a delightful thought.  We are all learning not to take the descriptions in bulb catalogues as gospel, but in this case the ambiguities can be twofold.  The bulbs you get will often not be Bluebells in fact, but the Hybrid, and even if you get the real thing, can you be sure that the bulbs are ethically sourced?  Cases of wholesale robbery of woodland bulbs, dug to sell, are becoming rarer as the Wildlife and Countryside Act begins to show some teeth, but it’s legal to dig wild plants with the landowner’s permission, so there is still a wide loophole for dirty deeds. Please consult the RHS Plant Finder for reputable sources of genuine Bluebells and, indeed, for ‘wild’ Snowdrops, and Wild Daffodils.

Be aware!  Watch over your favourite Bluebells, and speak up for them if you think they are in danger.

TOP PHOTO: Room Hill with Lyncombe Hill in the middle distance (by Andrew Wheatley).


Following the recent request for wildlife sightings, there have been more than 60 recorded on the Exmoor National Park’s Wild Watch pages.

Ali Hawkins from Exmoor National Park says: “Many thanks to everyone who has joined in with Exmoor Wild Watch and recorded their findings so far. The earliest cuckoo recorded this year was on 11 April, one day earlier than last year, so please let us know if and when you hear one as they should be calling for a few more weeks yet.

“Places to hear cuckoos on Exmoor usually include Croydon Hill, Alcombe Common, Ley Hill and Webber’s Post, but wherever you hear or see one, please record your sightings.

“Also spotted for the first time on Exmoor was a tree bumblebee, so please keep an eye out and let us know if you see one of these and where you saw it. As it gets warmer, another species to look out for is the beautiful gold-ringed dragonfly, the largest insect in the country.”

The place to record any sightings of these species and more is by visiting where you can also get involved by joining a Wild Watch training event.”

Spotter guides and a family wildlife leaflet can be picked up at National Park Centres at Dulverton, Lynmouth and Dunster.

PHOTO: Golden-ringed dragonfly by Nigel Stone.


Somerset Wildlife Trust is pleased to present the return of its successful Somerset Nature Reserves Fund. Launched in 2016, the Fund was established to raise money to safeguard some of Somerset’s most iconic landscapes and precious wildlife, and has already helped achieve some enormous gains for wildlife across the county. The Trust hopes that this year it will be able to do the same with the help and support of wildlife lovers across Somerset who will hopefully kindly donate this year.

Tim Youngs, Director of Land Management, explained, “In Somerset we are incredibly lucky to have some amazing habitats from internationally renowned wetlands and ancient woodland, to species-rich grassland and magnificent meadows, each requiring specific conservation programmes in order for the unique biodiversity to not only survive, but thrive.

“Our nature reserves within these special places are the bedrock upon which we are able to deliver critical conservation work and, to ensure these special places are kept healthy, an incredible amount of planning and resource is involved – our reserves cost nearly £2,000 a day to maintain, which is a significant outlay.  As the seasons and weather change, we have to continually adjust and fine-tune our work and habitat programmes, such as grazing management – with the failure to provide the necessary feeding and breeding grounds at certain times potentially having detrimental consequences for species the following year.

“Having extra funds not only means that we can continue with our practical conservation work on our reserves, but helps us to be prepared for what the future may hold. We will be able to respond faster and provide on the ground solutions when we are faced with unforeseen challenges – such as ash dieback.”

The Fund last year supported some amazing results for wildlife and was critical in conserving habitats for populations of some of Somerset’s most charismatic wildlife, from otters to dormice. The county is now the stronghold for Bittern, with five booming males recorded last year on Somerset Wildlife Trust’s National Nature Reserve Westhay Moor, thanks to the restoration of their reedbed habitat. And the Trust’s Green Down Reserve now holds 36% of the UK population of Large Blue Butterfly.

Katie Arber, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Director of Fundraising and Marketing, added, “It is very clear from the response we received last year that Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves are held dear by many people. Somerset’s wildlife is part of what makes living, working and visiting the county so special. Our members and supporters have been always been generous and we hope that they will give what they can again for what is a very important fundraising initiative for the Trust.  We also hope the wider public and local businesses who value their green spaces, and understand and appreciate their value in their lives, will support the Fund and help us ensure Somerset remains a wildlife rich county.”

For more information on the Fund and some examples of where monies raised will be spent, please visit Somerset Wildlife Trust’s website:

Any gift given to The Somerset Nature Reserves Fund will go directly to wherever the need is greatest on Somerset Wildlife nature reserves, ensuring that they are kept in the best possible condition to support wildlife and our conservation goals.  You can donate securely by card on our website (link above) or by telephoning 01823 652429. Every donation, whatever the size, will make a difference.

PHOTO: Hazel dormouse by James Maben.


Quince Honey Farm in South Molton is introducing a brand-new event for 2017, the Beekeeping Experience Day.

Running on six days throughout spring and summer, the one-day course, aimed at people aged 16 an over, provides the perfect opportunity for any budding beekeepers out there to get an introduction into the craft. It also promises to be a stimulating day out for those who would simply love the chance to spend a day in the stunning North Devon countryside learning about bees.

Led by a professional beekeeper, the day begins with some fascinating facts about beekeeping and bees, before it’s time to get suited up in full protective clothing to be shown, up close, the inner workings of a hive.

Following a tasty, freshly prepared lunch in the café and a guided tour of Quince Honey Farm’s unique Bee World exhibition, the afternoon session provides the chance to conduct a supervised ‘Beehive Inspection’. This is an opportunity to do some real beekeeping, and to learn how to care for the bees and keep the hive healthy all year round.

The knowledgeable resident beekeeper will wax lyrical about their profession, be on hand to answer any questions, offer up hints and tips and leave participants buzzing with excitement on a day well spent. With bees and beekeeping hitting the headlines now more than ever, it really is a fantastic time to get involved and help bees to thrive in our countryside.

The Beekeeping Experience Days cost £135 per person, including lunch and refreshments, and run on Thursday 11 and Saturday 13 May, Thursday 15 and Saturday 17 June, and Thursday 6 and Saturday 8 July. Ideal as a gift for a loved one or as a treat for yourself.

For more information or to book, contact Quince Honey Farm on 01769 572401, email  or visit the website at

PHOTO: Courtesy Solution Studios Photography


Somerset Wildlife Trust’s most successful urban wildlife projects, Routes To The River Tone is delighted to announce ‘Celebration Of The River Tone’ – an entire week of nature-based activities for all at half term.

The celebration is aimed to give people the opportunity to enjoy, discover and explore Taunton’s amazing green spaces, wild places and the stunning wildlife that lives along the river.  The programme of events aims to inspire people to support the charity’s ongoing work to reconnect people with nature and reap the health and wellbeing benefits of spending quality time outdoors.

The Routes to The River Tone project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with additional support from Viridor Waste Management, was launched in 2014. Over the past three years the project has worked with local people  and partnership organisations to provide a wide range of public  events, school wildplay sessions,  citizen science projects, interpretation for greenspaces, community gardens, trails (art, history, misguided, story and geocaching) and opportunities to get involved in practical conservation.

Nick Tomlinson, Routes the The River Tone Manager, said: “We really weren’t prepared for the overwhelming response we received when we started to talk to people from the communities, neighbourhoods, schools and community groups across Taunton.  The cumulative amount of passion, enthusiasm and interest that people have shown over the past three years and the popularity of the events we have put on, really shows that people in Taunton really do value nature and understand how critical it is that we make ourselves responsible for ensuring our wild places are still there to enjoy going forwards.

“Once people are helped to discover the natural places on their own doorstep, they value their local greenspace even more and have a greater desire to look after it. We are very proud of what the project has achieved and I am really excited about the programme of events we have put together with partners and local community groups to celebrate the successes of the last three years.”

Simon Nash, CEO of Somerset Wildlife Trust, added: “Community-based support for involvement and engagement with the environment is the key to the long term, sustainable management of Taunton’s wild and open spaces, as well as the health and wellbeing of the communities that surround them. Projects such as this one leave a significant and lasting legacy that can be taken beyond the life of the project itself and owned by the people who enjoy these places the most.”


Celebration of the River ToneCelebration of the River Tone – 13th-18th February 2017
Welcome to our Celebration of the River Tone, part of Somerset Wildlife Trust’s urban project – Routes to the River Tone. Join us as we celebrate our town’s amazing green spaces, wild places and the stunning wildlife that lives along the river through a week of nature-based activities. There’s something for all the family, so why not join us, and be part of it!

RTRTLitterboxesLitter Pick for Wildlife (in association with the Inland Waterways Association)
When: Monday 13th February, 2.30-4pm
Where: French Weir Park Slipway (near Clarence St.)

Help your local wildlife by removing litter from along the riverside. All equipment and guidance provided  by the Inland Waterways’ Volunteers.

How to book: No booking required.
Further details or 07977 263840

RTRTBirdboxesBuild a Bird a Home
When: Tuesday 14th February
Session: 1 10am
Session:  2 11am
Session:  3 2pm
Session: 4 3pm
Where: New COACH outdoor classroom, French Weir Park

Join us and build your own bird box for free as part of National Nest Box Week. All materials provided.

How to book: Book your time and a bird box kit by visiting

RTRT_StoryTrailStory Trail
When: Thursday 16th February
Where:  Brewhouse Theatre, Orchard, Taunton TA1 1JL

Join Ollie the Otter and his friend as these characters perform and launch you on an exploration of the river. Enjoy reading the story of Ollie the Otter and Vern the Water Vole as you discover the hidden waterways and green spaces of Taunton. Great family fun (walk is 1.5km pram and wheelchair accessible). You may also like to join a craft workshop or enjoy The Lorax film.

Craft Workshops – 10.30am, 12pm and 1.30pm, Free
Story Walk – 11pm, 12.30pm and 2pm, Free
The Lorax Film PG – 3pm, £4 per ticket

How to book:     Please contact the Brewhouse Theatre, Orchard, Taunton TA1 1JL 01823 283244

RTRT_StorytimeStory Time
When:  Friday 17th February
(Session1) 1.15pm- 2.45pm
(Session 2) 3.00pm-5.30pm
Where: New COACH The Parkroom, French Weir Park

Fantastic fables, wild tales and clay art to launch our new picture book about the wildlife of the River Tone.

How to book:  Book to ensure a place  by visiting

RTRT_River of light_FusePerformaceRiver of Light Finale Event (in partnership with FUSE Performance )
When: Saturday 18th February, 3- 7.30pm

Join us as we create a River of Light with willow lanterns and streamers followed by a fire performance, live music and food.

Willow Streamer Making Workshop: 3-4.30pm at the Brewhouse Theatre

River of Light Procession: Starts at 5.30pm from the Brewhouse Theatre/Castle Green
Fire Performance: 6pm Goodland Gardens
Band and food: 6.30-7.30pm Goodland Gardens

How to book:  No booking required

For further details on the Celebration of the River Tone activities and events visit or contact or call Claire, Nick, Olivia or Rose on 01823 652 400


The dramatic decline of bumblebees and other pollinators has hit the headlines in recent years. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is working with landowners to take urgent action to reverse this downward trend.

Why do we need bumblebees on farmland?
Pollinators are essential for maintaining a healthy and sustainable farm. We depend on them to pollinate clover pasture, 75% of our food crops, diverse herbal swards, and wildflowers. The decline of pollinators has enormous repercussions. They are a free resource, but need a continuous food supply through the spring and summer, and somewhere to nest and hibernate.

What West Country Buzz is doing and how to get involved
Landowners are incorporating easy, simple changes into their management plans at no extra cost. For example, encouraging flowers along tracksides, leaving small patches of long grass in unproductive areas ungrazed/uncut on rotation for nesting, or reducing the frequency of hedgerow cutting to encourage flowering. This has a huge impact on bumblebees’ chances of survival.

Grants are also available to support pollinators through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme’s Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, visit the website

NOTE: If you click on the link you will see that it says Devon, but in fact the project covers the whole of the South West, so if you are Somerset don’t worry – you can still get in touch with the project.

To arrange a free farm visit for no-obligation advice on enhancing your land for pollinators, call Cathy Horsley on 07951 154530.

PHOTO: As featured in our summer 2014 article on the ‘plight of the bumblebee’.


Jack and Alison Clegg have moved their photography business from Porlock to Minehead. We wish them all the best with this development! Jack is a long-standing contributor to the magazine and his photography stars on the current winter cover. The photo above shows a red kite which Jack photographed in Valley of Rocks. The image accompanies Trevor Beer’s Country Matters article on page 63 of the winter magazine (which is all about wildlife in winter in the Valley of Rocks).

Here is a message from Jack and Alison about their move, which we have promised to share…

As our lease has now ended at the shop in Porlock, we are relocating the business. We would like to thank you for your custom and support over the last six years and we look forward to your continued custom and support in the future. We have found that with the ever-increasing popularity of the photography courses, we are away from this shop too much to justify staying here.

Exmoor Photography is continuing as normal. However, we will be concentrating on the following services,

  • Exmoor Photography Courses
  • Online Gallery Sales
  • Commercial Photography
  • Canvas & fine quality printing service (not kiosk)

All of our products and information are available online
as always on the following websites.
If you have any questions or would like
to book your photography course
Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Course & Photo accessories:
Alternatively, you can contact us on
T: 01643 702312 (active from Monday 23rd January 2017)
M: 07790 885506

Exmoor Photography
85 Marshfield Rd
TA24 6AJ.

You are welcome to visit the office BY APPOINTMENT ONLY,
please contact us on the above numbers to make an appointment.
We will be running the business from our H/A until we find
a larger retail premises in a bigger town.

  • Please note if you have a Photography Course GV, please contact us (as per normal) to book your course by contacting us on the above numbers.
  • Please note if you have a current shop GV you can use it on the gallery website as above or as part payment against one of our photography courses.


This month, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Rosemoor celebrates the beautiful winter gem that is the Snowdrop with three weeks of ‘Sensational Snowdrops’.

Starting on 21 January and running until 12 February, there will be a display of digital snowdrop prints copied from RHS Lindley Library Art Collection. Complementing this exhibition there will be drifts of snowdrops around the garden to delight visitors during winter walks. Some of these clumps intertwine with the dramatic coloured stems of Rosemoor’s National Cornus Collection.

During two of the weekends, 28 & 29 January and 4 & 5 February, visitors will also be able to see craft demonstrations by ‘From Paper to Petals’ making beautiful handmade snowdrops (and hellebores) from crepe paper to brighten your home and help to banish the dull days of winter. Everyone is encouraged to come along and have a go!

In the Shop and Plant Centre, there will also be short talks and demonstrations most weekends on winter colour/ interest as well as large stocks of plants to buy.

The celebration finishes with Snowdrop Day on 11 February, an adult leisure learning workshop on which there are limited spaces and is subject to additional workshop fees. During the day, Trevor Wiltshire together with RHS Staff, will give a talk in the morning and a guided garden walk after a lunch break to teach visitors all there is to know about these enchanting flowers. Trevor was the superintendent of the rock garden at RHS Garden Wisley and has served on local and national committees of the Alpine Garden Society and the Cyclamen Society. He will talk about wild Turkish snowdrops, how that country conserves wild populations of snowdrops and cyclamen, and explain CITES and its limitations. The propagation technique of twin scaling will be explained, with slides of the village of Dumlugöze’s snowdrop growing fields and he will describe the frustrations of this laudable project to conserve wild populations and curb the digging up of wild snowdrops for export.

Normal garden admission applies and for more information, please visit or telephone the events team on 01805 626800.