We're wild about open spaces but beware, others are not

Rolling countryside with Sidmouth and the sea in the distance

Many people have been getting out and discovering the local countryside around the Sid Valley. View from Fire Beacon Hill - Credit: Alex Walton Photography

No more excuses. The sun is out, the days are lengthening and it’s time to get out into the fresh air, after what has been for many a year of semi-hibernation. And where better in our country to do it than right here?
The website I would commend to you is https://eastdevon.gov.uk/countryside/ where you can find the many opportunities in our own backyard. The envelope for all of this is the council-backed Wild East Devon project, where the council acts as steward for some remarkable habitats. There are short introductory videos for some of them on the site too, which are well worth a view before you set off.
East Devon manages no fewer than 10 of these reserves, and because I will get into deep trouble if I do not list them all, here they are: Holyford Woods, Fire Beacon Hill, Trinity Hill, Knapp Copse, Exmouth Local Nature Reserve, The Maer Exmouth, Honiton Bottom Community Nature Reserve, Hillcrest Community Nature Reserve, and Delderfield Community Nature Reserve.
The website gives brief but interesting introductions to them all and videos of some, as I have said. The videos in particular show the passion of our local rangers, whose expertise and love for the places they describe is plain for all to see. The nearest to me is Holyford Woods in Colyford, and I will be down there this week to see the lovely bluebell display, and I will do my best to get to them all during May.
One name which intrigues me is the Delderfield reserve, west of Sidmouth, named after the great East Devon author R L Delderfield, who famously wrote “To Serve Them All My Days”, but whose first novel was called “All Over The Town”, one of the most prophetic stories of dodgy dealings in planning processes in local government ever written. It tells of an innocent cub reporter stumbling across some iffy councillors in a town based on Exmouth, one of whom is trying to see through a housing estate for his pals to benefit his own new bus company. A very good read, but don’t bother with the film, shot in Lyme Regis and not a patch on the book. The book may ring a few bells hereabouts.
These nature reserves are something East Devon council chooses to do; they are nor obligatory like emptying the bins or maintaining the public loos. This is one of the reasons that their work needs constant promotion. There will always be knows-the-price-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing councillors who want to shave a few pounds off your council tax by not looking after these spots anymore. Not on my watch, and I suspect not that of most councillors from all backgrounds.
Eternal vigilance is required, however, to protect the natural environment. Some very old friends of my family, Issy and Charlie Burrell, began a now nationally famous process of “wilding” Knepp, their Sussex estate in 2001. They moved out of unsuccessful dairy production and with much care let the estate, its river and the animals who lived there take their own course.
The revival of insect and bird species, of plants and breeds of animals indigenous before the last ice age, has been astonishing. And yet, a worm in the bud. One of their great hopes is to form wildlife corridors between other locations where a wilding process has begun. Unfortunately, Horsham District Council, under pressure from housing need numbers defined by government, is considering giving the green light to 3,500 houses on a new estate next to Knepp as part of its Local Plan process. No more corridor.
You’ll hear plenty more about this in the headlines and it captures perfectly the constant tension between the very popular conservation movement and private-sector developer-dominated local strategic plans. In East Devon, we are at the beginnings of our own Local Plan process; we need to take care not to be lured into the same trap.

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