Location Braunton SS486355
Road Access Off the new Tesco roundabout at Velator
Habitat Mixture of mature and young trees around a freshwater pond
Size 0.5 ha
Access Devon Birds members by appointment
Site Manager Jon Turner – mobile 07711 211645
Tenure Licenced to Devon Birds from SWW

Velator by Roy Churchill

Velator

Places to GoVelator

Devon Birds took over the area surrounding the Velator SWW former sewage treatment site when it was converted into an automated pumping station in 1998. It is only suitable as a ‘closed’ reserve, so no general access, but members are welcome by appointment.

The area was landscaped and extensively planted with a variety of native trees – mostly Willow, but good numbers of Alder, Oak and Ash, some Elder, with Guelder Rose, Sea Buckthorn and Hawthorn providing the berry crop – these have been nurtured over the succeeding years, so that there is now extensive tree cover. This took a long time as the growth of Charlock was difficult to keep down! Also the landscaping was completed with immense amounts building rubble, with very little topsoil in many places.

There is a pond which was planted with reeds which have now developed in several areas to provide useful reed-bed cover. There is a small island in the pond which was originally intended to attract waders, but the tree cover has rather precluded them as have the attentions of the local Canada Geese, and occasional visits from the local Mute Swans.

The southern margin of the reserve is part of the main reed-bed of Sherpa (or Sharper) Marsh. The eastern and northern sides of the reserve are dominated by a row of Macrocarpa and Cupressus Leylandii trees, giving some evergreen cover and screening the pumping station building from Velator and Wrafton.

There are two open areas which were left to see what wild flowers might establish. One of these areas is reasonably dry and the other slightly more damp, being adjacent to the pond. Both have developed as different ecosystems, one dominated by grasses, the other by taller annuals such as willow-herbs. They were left as open areas to encourage invertebrates, and see what other plants may colonise.

Society member John Wicks has devoted many hours to encouraging the development of the trees and other areas since taking on the warden’s job at the outset. He has kept a list of the birds butterflies and dragonflies seen in (and from) the reserve over the years. However the years have caught up with John and he has now passed on the tools to Jon Turner, who will try to keep up the good work!

In 2009 permission was granted to ring birds in the reserve, and this has given a fascinating insight into the numbers of birds using the reserve as a home and as a refuge, both resident and migrant. Indeed some birds not previously seen in the reserve have turned up in mist nets, along with some real surprises.

The trees have grown so well that the last couple of years we have taken to coppicing some of the Willows each winter to encourage some ‘low’ growth. This is particularly effective with ‘Golden Willow’ which produced saplings at least 12 feet long in one year! This last winter we have planted some hazel to increase the diversity and in future we hope to plant an area on one of the slopes with gorse to further enhance the diverse nature within the reserve. In addition a small orchard has been established to see if we can attract more wintering Thrushes into the reserve.

A visit to Ashford water treatment works revealed a number of triple nest boxes on most of the buildings on site and permission was sought – and granted – to put some on the building at Velator. Four have now been installed to see if some of the nearby colony House Sparrows can be encouraged to expand into breeding in the reserve.  After three Tawny Owls were ringed in 2011, last winter a Tawny Owl box has been erected in one of the tall pines on the northern boundary. It remains to be seen if the Owls find it to their liking.

Over 100 species of birds have been recorded either in or from the reserve, and around 30 species of Butterfly and a dozen Dragonflies/Damselflies.

Some of the more unusual species include: Bittern, Night Heron, Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt, Mandarin, Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher.