Natural England, in collaboration with Clinton Devon Estates, has announced Thursday 13 May, a new National Nature Reserve (NNR) for the vitally important East Devon Pebblebed Heaths near Exeter.
East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, stretching between the village of Woodbury towards Budleigh Salterton on the Jurassic Coast, is the latest site in the county to join the UK’s list of nationally and internationally important landscapes.
The management partners are the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. A new board, under the chairmanship of Chris Woodruff, the manager of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, will guide and advise the partners in the management of the new NNR.
Recognition of the 1,160 hectare site as a NNR both protects and establishes East Devon Pebblebed Heaths’ important habitats, species and geology, and provides an ‘outdoor laboratory’ for research.
The new NNR will make up a part of the wider Nature Recovery Network to significantly expand and connect wildlife rich places to benefit people and nature. At the heart of the heaths is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and the site is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA).
A biodiversity audit in 2016 documented more than 3,000 species across the range of habitats on the heaths – and more than 10% of these have been shown to have high conservation value. Among the key species which benefit from the habitats the heaths provide are Dartford warblers, nightjars and the southern damselfly.
Announcing the NNR, Natural England Chair Tony Juniper, said:
“National Nature Reserves are the very jewels in nature’s crown. In addition to being among our most wonderful natural areas, they are also at the very heart of our ambition to create a Nature Recovery Network, to restore the beauty, diversity and health of nature across the country.
“The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths reserve offers wonderful opportunities for people to connect with nature, and to experience some wonderful wildlife, including 70 species of breeding birds and many unusual plants, insects and reptiles. It is also an important archaeological site, set in a unique and evocative landscape.
“Natural England is very proud to confirm the designation of East Devon Pebblebed Heaths and hope many more people will enjoy its wonderful natural riches.”
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Head of Wildlife and Conservation for Clinton Devon Estates, said:
“The heaths have been loved by generations of people and attract around 400,000 visits a year. As well as providing space for some of our rarest species, they play an important role in supporting mental and physical health and wellbeing, providing contact with nature and a place to exercise, socialise and enjoy.
“Being granted National Nature Reserve status by Natural England is a recognition of the hard work not just of the staff of the 3 partner management organisations but the many volunteers who give so much of their time through groups such as the Friends of the Commons, all of which are invaluable.
“This declaration also helps ensure the future of the heaths and their wildlife because National Nature Reserves benefit from the highest level of conservation protection available under UK legislation.”
NNRs are designated by Natural England and are acknowledged as rare and precious areas which protect some of our country’s most important places for wildlife and geology.
There are more than 200 NNRs in England with the first NNRs declared in the 1950s. Today NNRs showcase the best of conservation practice aimed at protecting habitat, wildlife and geology alongside supporting research, education and recreation where people can enjoy and engage with our shared heritage.