At a glance
Upland, Broadleaved woodland, Rivers and streams, Grassland and meadow, Heathlands and shrub and Coastal (including beach, sand dunes)
Red Deer, Exmoor ponies, Long-horn cattle and Mangalica pig
Extensive grazing, Tree Planting, Natural regeneration and Restoring natural hydrology
Volunteering, Tourism and Recreation
Looking out across the landscape you are struck by the lack of order that lies before you. Wildlife here is abundant and nature is messy. Trees, like birch and sycamore, meander up and out of combes, inter-mingling with heather and gorse. Large thickets of bramble surround young thorny shrubs, whose berries invite a multitude of birdlife. Open glades are filled with welcoming hues of blue, yellow, and purple, that excite passing pollinators, and are bordered by apple, plum and cherry trees. Their pink blossom rains down like snow. Large oak and birch trees have sprung up randomly across the skyline, providing homes for bats that, once endangered are now so very common. Footpaths and viewpoints criss-cross the landscape, welcoming people in to relax, and take time to soak up the buzz of nature
and rivers, which once flowed quickly though incised channels, have
been reconnected with their floodplains. The water now trickles
slowly, fanning out and pooling, being held in great
puddles by trees, fallen deadwood and beaver dams, creating ideal mating
grounds for dragon and damsel flies. Grazing animals roam freely, each
doing their bit to help sustain this vision of nature. Pigs root around,
opening bare patches from which new life will spring. Hardy cattle, crash
their way through thick undergrowth to keep glades open, preventing them from
becoming overgrown and turning into closed woodland. Whilst wallowing
buffalo do their bit to prevent pools from silting up, maintaining complex open
water habitats for countless wetland plants and animals. The land
benefits from the animal’s poo, which provides homes for
beetles and keeps the soil healthy.
the Wild Exmoor vision for the 1,821 hectares of land the West Exmoor National Trust care for.
landscape is predominantly a coastal strip
of heathland, along with two steep-sided wooded river
valleys, which sweep inland, and host large areas
of farmland at both eastern and western
extremities. The farmland to the east of the land
holding stands roughly 250m above sea level at its highest
point, and once supported high levels of sheep. The exposed grassland
and heath had been degraded over many years of intense and sustained grazing. Currently,
water flows quickly down the combes partially because
the soils across the heathlands are thin, degraded and
compact, mostly due to historical burning of heathland vegetation which has
since ceased. Much of the land is split into large blocks of single
species – heather, grass and even-aged oak.
Now, the West
Exmoor National Trust team are working hard to restore natural processes and
open public access across all this land. They want to encourage a much
‘messier’ and more dynamic landscape to develop, underpinned by
sustainable land management, utilising a mix of carefully controlled
grazing, rootling and wallowing animals, encouraging natural regeneration,
planting trees and allowing areas to become much wetter by
restoring wetland habitats.
The project team strive
to look at the land as a whole and not as modular habitat types. Intensive sheep
grazing has been removed, replaced with low numbers of English Longhorn
cattle, Mangalitsa pigs and Exmoor
ponies, who roam through the landscape. Red deer naturally occur
in the area. Trees are starting to self-seed in many areas
where grazing pressure has been lifted, and scrub is being encouraged. This
includes across the heathland to create a mosaic of habitats and
break up the blanket of single-aged heather and gorse. Wood
pasture will be planted to break up the mass of grassland and to blur
the edges between heathland, field, and woodland.
drains are being broken up in many areas which were once farmed,
and deep incised channels were water was historically forced to
flow are being filled in. This will slow the flow of water across the
landscape and encourage large wetlands areas to develop. Other
tasks that contribute to realising our vision, with a focus on
restoring natural processes through intervention, include woodland
management to open-up glades, and pollarding. Our hope is that
although some initial work is necessary to kick-start natural
processes, eventually nature here will be self-sustaining and self-governing.
access is important, with new cycling and
walking routes being created across the wilder landscape. The project has also gained funding for a new education centre and plan to offer a variety of
camping options in the future.
As well as staff, a dedicated group of volunteers work alongside the team helping to realise its vision. The project is a long-term landscape scale approach, realising the potential for the UK’s countryside and offering a wild nature rich future for generations to come.
The existing cottage at Kipscombe has been renovated into accommodation for visitors, providing an additional income to the area and allowing visitors to connect with nature. Wild meat is also supplied to a local pub.
Images: West Exmoor National Trust
Find out more
- 1 Continue wildlife monitoring, which includes bats, birds, and vegetation
- 2 Consider additional species reintroductions to restore natural processes
- 3 Increase access across the site
- 4 Experiment with new approaches to restoring natural processes, including different grazing approaches