An update on Godborough, the Devon Birds reserve near Bideford

Godborough Update December 2016

2016 has been a year of significant progress at Godborough and the site ends the year in a far better condition as a nature reserve. Key developments during the year have been:-

  1. The opening up of fence lines with small gates to create a series of paths within the plantations.
  2. Removal of the majority of tree guards which needed removal.
  3. Greening up of the scrapes dug out last year and the newly opened water in the ponds increasing diversity.
  4. Erection of fencing to allow the site to be split into four separate grazing blocks. This will allow grazing to be controlled as recommended by Mike Lock and Jerry Tallowin.
  5. Introduction of Exmoor ponies to winter graze the main slope of Shirleys field.
  6. Introduction of Devons to graze other areas, especially the “finch field” which we hope will be well poached!
  7. Installation of a solar powered water trough to enable cattle and sheep to obtain water without entering the ponds which is underway as I write.
  8. Felling of some of the large willows overhanging the ponds.
  9. Support from Bideford College ceased due to a change of policy at the College. However, we have been lucky to forge links with Petroc College and a leader with a small group has joined us. They are proving very “workish”, a credit to themselves and a real bonus to the site.

In addition there has been a large amount of routine maintenance as we try and avoid getting carried away with new projects and losing the benefits of what has been done before. For example:-

  1. The fencing and fence posts at the top by Mary’s memorial has been replaced.
  2. The bottom of Weasel’s wood has been cleared to allow some of the specimen hornbeam and service trees to develop.
  3. Clearance of the large spring fed sump which feeds the ponds.
  4. Clearing back bramble and blackthorn in the developing plantations.
  5. All the boundaries walked and replacement stakes inserted plus extra strands of barbed wire to ensure we could contain the livestock. Convinced we were secure the Devons then found a weak spot which necessitated a new 40m section of fence!

We were pleased to entertain the Devon Wildlife Trust North Devon branch. They were most impressed by the incredible selection of berried shrubs on the site. These were a major attraction to redwings and fieldfares when we had the cold snap. We planned to hold an open Moth evening but Force 7 winds and heavy rain meant that was postponed.

We have had a wide range of mammal sightings ranging from roe deer to stoats and the first mole hills on site. We have had sightings of most of the bird species we would expect. It was pleasing to see grey wagtail, skylarks and meadow pipit in the winter months but they did not stay to breed. This autumn we had our first snipe and yellowhammer sightings, two more on our target list of local species. Perhaps the biggest surprise was to see kingfishers visiting the site.

A meeting of the volunteers who regularly help at the site was held in early December to draw up a plan for next year. Inevitably there was some debate on priorities but we finally agreed that the main tasks for next year should be:-

  1. Starting a regular coppicing regime as we have badly overgrown hazels and sycamores in some of the planned coppice areas.
  2. Clearing further large willows.
  3. Creating a screen overlooking the scrapes and ponds and a path to the screen.
  4. Closing off the bottom corner of the site by the bridge.
  5. Attempting to clear the area around the ancient hornbeam by the cross ridge dyke.
  6. Improving the path through Turner’s Wood.
  7. Growing a crop of spring barley in the “finch field” which will be left for the winter feeding of finches and other species.
  8. Cleaning out the bottom pond and the last section of the centre pond.
  9. Keeping on top of day to day management, e.g. gorse in Shirleys field and the top meadow, brambles and blackthorn on the paths, cutting the long grass and reeds round the pond area, etc.
  10. Confirming a regular recorder for the site. We think we have a candidate but he has had illness within his family of late.

Looking further ahead to the 2017/18 winter season we will need to replace some fencing on the east side of Shirleys field and consider the placement of nest boxes in the young plantations and bat boxes around the pond. If resources are available we will consider the use of green hay on the slope between Weasels Wood and Marys Wood. Barring major accidents like one of the large trees falling and creating damage it is unlikely that further major expenditure will be required

Devon Highways are working adjacent to the site and as rent for placing their welfare unit on site they paid to have our roadside hedge and bank trimmed and will replace one section of fencing near the entrance which needed replacement. This will save £400 -£500 of expected expenditure. Their skip has also been a useful source of material.

None of this would have been achieved without the dedicated band of volunteers who turn up regularly to our weekly work parties. Most are Devon Birds members but three are local villagers who support what is being done on the site. A special mention must go to Norman Briden who was there when Godborough was first bought and is still working as hard as anyone to see the site develop. At present the work parties are mid-week tied to College dates but we will look to some weekend dates as there are members who would like to help but have working commitments during the week.

Finally we have to thank Devon Birds for the financial support without which we could not tackle the continuing development of the site.

Philip Marlow

Dec 2016