Conservation work on the waterwheel at Manor Mill in Branscombe has been postponed after a protected species of bird was found nesting nearby.

Millwrights working for the National Trust were due to replace the 300-year-old waterwheel’s main shaft and some of its buckets this month. But fledgling dippers, a bird whose numbers have been in decline since the 1970s, have been seen sitting on the stationary wheel and are likely to be nesting in the nearby riverbank.

Midweek Herald: Dipper by a stream

The dipper is classified as ‘amber’ on the UK’s conservation status. It is a stout bird which lives near waterways, choosing nest sites in streamside caves or crevices near waterfalls. The birds are also happy in man-made alternatives such as cracks in bridges, walls, weirs, and in this case a waterwheel chasm. As the bird’s name suggests, it feeds by foraging underwater for insects - dipping, diving and even swimming in fast-flowing streams. This is a unique skill in the songbird world.

The conservation work will now be done during the winter, outside the nesting season, so as not to disturb the birds. The National Trust is hoping they will return to nest on the banks there next year after the wheel has been fully restored.

Even though their presence has delayed the conservation work, the National Trust East Devon Countryside team are delighted to have signs of dippers nesting.

Meg Vallender, Visitor Experience Officer, said: “We have noticed dippers on this stretch of stream in previous years, but they have always nested further downstream, away from the water mill.

“As soon as we realised a dipper was using the area around the wheel, we decided to delay work until after the end of the nesting season. We are hopeful work will be completed in time to reopen the mill to visitors for Easter 2024.

“Branscombe’s location, nestled at the bottom of a series of narrow river valleys with woodlands and a patchwork of small fields surrounded by big Devon hedges, is an ideal home for wildlife. The National Trust ranger team in Branscombe, along with its partners, look after and enhance the natural environment here, also ensuring people can access this beautiful place for their enjoyment.”