What do you think of our future plans for a wilder Challacombe?
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
Over the past few years, with the support of our landlord, the Duchy of Cornwall, we’ve been thinking about how to improve the farm’s biodiversity and range of habitats, better conserve our historic features and increase public understanding and enjoyment of our farm. With input from numerous people, we have steadily built up a wish list of projects. Now with the imminent roll-out of a new funding scheme ‘Farming in Protected Landscapes’ this will hopefully give us the chance to make these happen. Before we submit our application (in early September) we thought it would be good to give everyone a chance to see what we’re proposing and if you have any ideas for adding to, tweaking or refining our proposals please either leave a comment or email us. Also, if you would like to get roughly monthly email updates about how the plan is progressing, then if you haven’t already please sign-up for our newsletters using the form on our homepage.
We’ve split the projects into 4 themes; trees and woodland, rhos pasture and wetland, archaeological management and improving public access.
In addition to the descriptions below, a Google map showing the location of each project can be viewed at https://www.google.co.uk/maps/d/edit?mid=1nlwyahQ3IpHCaUiJSgGLOfPplxwcqhLi&usp=sharing
1. Woodland & hedgerow creation
To improve habitat, landscape, carbon storage and natural flood management we want to increase the amount of deciduous tree cover across the farm, whilst avoiding damaging archaeology or rhos pasture / wetland habitats. Following discussions and site visits from a range of experts we have identified a number of locations to be planted outside of the scheduled areas, mostly on the lower slopes of the valley and close to the streams. This fits with the DNPA Landscape Plan to extend woodland cover up river valleys.
1a. Creation of wood pasture (5.3ha)
Looking south down the valley
What & why: In the unscheduled fields on the east side of the valley (between the stream and the road) we want to create a wood pasture to provide better habitat for birds and shelter for livestock. This will be achieved by plant 30 saplings (oak, rowan, hawthorn & sycamore protected by 1.6 metre high Cactus guards (https://cactustreeguards.co.uk/) spread across the fields.
Timing: 2021 - 22
Below: A cactus tree guard
1b. Valley woodland blocks x 2 (0.2ha & 0.14ha)
What & why: These small blocks of deciduous woodland (oak, rowan, birch and alder) will provide a habitat ‘stepping stone’ between the other copses and trees in the valley. Block 2 closest to the road runs alongside a small stream, and will enhance the existing Natural Flood Management previously undertaken in the gully (further NFM works planned below the gully are in section 2c. These areas (just) meet the minimum size for the England Woodland Grant Offer, but not the required minimum width of 20 metres.
Timing: 2022 – 23 FY
1c. Hamel Down fields Cuckoo perches (8ha)
What & why: These fields on the side of Hamel Down are important habitat for cuckoos who use the isolated hawthorn trees as perches. However, these are coming to the end of their life, and several have been blown over / died in recent years. To replace these, we propose to plant 6 new hawthorns protected by Cactus guards (https://cactustreeguards.co.uk/) spread across the fields. This work is dependent on obtaining Scheduled Ancient Monument consent.
Timing: 2022 – 23 FY
1d. Orchard creation (0.08ha)
What & why: A habitat the farm is currently lacking is orchard. Following advice from Orchard Link, the best location to establish an orchard, in terms of growth and fitting in with the historic landscape is in the valley close to the farm house and cottages. In consultation with the DNPA Archaeologist we have selected a spot at the northern end of the medieval village. This area is not scheduled, and a dig undertaken here in 2019 uncovered pottery, but no evidence of buildings and so it is thought would have been part of the gardens. We will plant traditional local varieties of apples and other fruits, and have a gate at each end, to provide easy access for the public.
Timing: 2022 – 23 FY
1e. Woodland / orchard creation – track (0.31ha)
What & why:
To provide landscape and wildlife benefits we will plant a small copse of deciduous woodland with a line of fruit trees in the lower and most sheltered section that runs alongside the bridle path. To encourage public access a gate will be installed at each end.
Timing: 2022 – 23 FY
1f. South Down streamside woodland creation (0.6ha)
What & why:
Through a mix of natural regeneration and planting of saplings we will increase the amount of tree cover alongside the West Webburn and Redwater streams (areas shown in red in photo above). Planting will be restricted to the drier ground which is currently covered with bracken and avoid the wetter areas of rhos pasture and archaeological features such as the tinners’ blowing house.
A new fence will be installed on the purple line, to protect the trees and enable controlled grazing of the wet area / rhos pasture to benefit marsh fritillary butterflies. When animals are grazing the rhos pasture we will put up an electric fence to protect the trees.
To minimise the visual impact of the fence and subsoil disturbance of any archaeology, we will use Clipex style metal posts for the fencing, and much of it will be installed by hand. This is Open Access land so we will also install 2 pedestrian gates to provide access through the fence near to a 13C blowing house and tinners’ buddles and 2 field gates for stock (and people). This project links with 2a – proposals to improve and extend the area of rhos pasture.
Timing: 2021 – 22 FY
1g. Hedgerow creation (220 metres) & herbal ley / pollinator mix (0.85ha)
What & why: Planting of these hedges (red lines) will provide landscape and wildlife benefit. The one running east / west is on the line of an historic hedgeline, that is shown on 1947 OS mapping, but not on the 1956 1:25,000 edition, so the assumption is that it was removed postwar. The hedge running north/south was also removed around this time, but we reinstated it c. 5years ago. The two proposed hedges run parallel to existing hedges, and so will create ‘green lanes’ leading from the barns to the in-bye fields.
The soil structure in the lower fields (yellow outline above) has been damaged through poaching by cattle going in and out of the barns in the winter (they are fed undercover and the barns are bedded up, but they retain free access to the fields). This issue has been largely resolved by the construction of a hardened cattle track c. 5 years ago, and the new hedges will mean that cattle can be kept to the track rather than the ‘new’ fields whenever the ground is soft. To improve the soil structure in these fields we plan to reseed them using a no-till method and sow them with a seed mix (species TBC) that provides food for birds and pollinators.
Timing: Hedge establishment 2021 – 22. Reseeding 2022 - 23
2. Rhos pasture and wetland enhancement
In collaboration with nearby farmers and with advice from Butterfly Conservation and the Hill Farm project we have for many years been managing our rhos pasture to benefit the Bog hoverfly identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) as a priority species for conservation action and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Our rhos pasture is considered a key site for both species and over the past few years following advice from Butterfly Conservation’s (a charity) ‘All the Moor Butterflies’ project we have undertaken monitoring and refined our management of the rhos pasture. This involves grazing by cattle and ponies so that small runnels are kept open, and scrub encroachment is held in check. Alongside this we have cut back scrub and laid hedges to link areas and blocked off drainage ditches to retain more water in the bogs.
We have also undertaken a number of Natural Flood Management projects funded by the Upstream Thinking and Dartmoor Headwaters project to slow waterflow, trap sediment and improve wildlife habitats.
Building on the success of these projects we have identified a number of other locations across the farm where we can improve and expand the existing wetland habitats. These are programmed over the 3 year FiPL scheme to avoid too much change happening in one go, fit in with our capacity to deliver and having a digger each year to allow previous projects to be tweaked if required.
2a. South Down - rhos pasture enhancement (2.5ha)
What & why: This project is linked to the tree planting & new fence described in section 1e of our proposal and the ‘Snicket’ pond in 2b. In 2020 we ‘re-wetted’ the area shown in yellow above by blocking the many shallow ditches that were draining this area with shallow pools / scrapes dug to supply the material for the dams. This has been very successful and resulted in the whole area becoming much wetter with the scrapes attracting numerous damsel/ dragonflies along with birds such as snipe.
Through this project we plan undertake similar ditch blocking across the area marked in blue on the other side of the Redwater stream. To make it easier for marsh fritillary to move between this area and the rhos pasture on Soussons Farm we cut 2 or 3 gaps (30 metres in total) of the line of willows running along our boundary– roughly red line above.
Currently the rhos pasture can only be grazed at the same time as the drier sloping field to the north. This drier part of the field requires quite intensive grazing to keep the archaeology visible and for waxcaps (it’s a regionally important site), and so historically the rhos pasture have been grazed more intensively than is optimal and there are currently no devil’s bit scabious plants (food source for the marsh fritillary or marsh marigold (food plant of the bog hoverfly). To reintroduce these, we plan to plant plugs propagated by students at Shallowford Farm, using seed harvested from our farm.
The final part of the project is to stone pitch using large granite slabs the approach and stream bed at the point marked with a blue dot to provide a drinking and crossing point for cattle to use. We considered a new water trough at the top of the field, but following discussions with the DNPA Archaeologist concluded this would be a better option, as the area around a trough would get poached and the water pipe would have to be dug across the Scheduled area.
Timing: 2022 – 23 practical works, 2023- 24 plug planting
2b. Snicket field pond and tree planting (0.15ha)
What & Why: This is a small area beside the road which we have recently fenced off. Whilst undertaking the tree planting and wetland work on the South Down – see Sections 1e & 2a, we plan to create a pond / wetland at the southern end and plant the drier northern end.
Timing: 2022 – 23
2c. Valley pond & rhos pasture creation (0.1ha)
What & why: In 2020 we undertook two Natural Flood Management (NFM) projects in this area funded by the Dartmoor Headwaters project. Having seen how these have bedded in, we would like to extend these works further downstream.
The first site is on a small seasonal stream coming off Hamel Down. In 2020 we built leaky dams in the section running through the gully, but downstream of the gully (Site 1) there remains a deeply incised channel flowing into the marsh below. This channel will be infilled and a small pond dug upstream of it, with the overflow from the pond being directed to the marshy areas either side of the infilled gully.
Just upstream of the gully is a washed out ford. We plan to make this more robust by stone pitching the crossing and the immediate approach on either side using large granite slabs.
Site 2: On the other side of the West Webburn is a area of wet ground / rhos pasture. This area was rewetted in 2020 by constructing a bund / trackway between the marsh and the stream and put timber dams to slow waterflow through the marsh. Having seen how this has established we plan to adapt it by raise the spillway we constructed between the marsh and the stream, so that water flows into the area immediately south, with low dams / bunds constructed to slow the flow down even more and create rhos pasture.
2d. Construction of artificial otter holt
Left: Trail cam photo of a ‘Challacombe’ otter
Right: Artificial otter holt – from https://www.econorth.co.uk/otter-holt-construction/dav-5/
What & why: We have otters on the farm, but the lack of large riverside trees with hollows under their roots means that there are no suitable sites for them to breed. To remedy this, we would like to construct an artificial holt for them to hopefully use.
2e. Rewetting / rhos pasture creation (0.65ha)
What & why: This is an area of rush, but by blocking / rediverting the current drainage ditches along with digging scrapes it will be made much wetter and so provide better habitat for marsh fritillary, bog hoverfly and other rhos pasture species. It will also provide a link between other areas of rhos pasture.
Timing: 2023 - 24
3. Archaeological management
The human history of Challacombe Farm goes back millennia, and people’s impact over the ages on the landscape are still clearly visible. These include Bronze Age settlements and hut circles, medieval terraced field systems and village, and extensive evidence of tin mining carried out from the 12th to the early 20th century. As a result, a large proportion of the farm is designated as Scheduled Ancient Monument.
To conserve these features our ongoing management is ensure that grazing pressure is light enough to avoid any bare ground / surface poaching or damage to built structures, and to ensure they remain visible control the spread of gorse and bracken on the strip lynchets.
3a. Bracken control in Hamel Down fields (8ha)
What & why: This area is managed as one grazing block, but consists of many small fields separated by broken down stone walls and banks, and within some medieval fields strip lynchets. This is one some of the oldest recorded field systems on Dartmoor, and as a result of this, along with remains of Bronze Age hut circles and settlement it is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Until 3 years ago, it was unfenced and open to the common and so we were unable to control the grazing, with the result that it suffered over-grazing in the winter and spring. Ecologically it is important habitat for cuckoos. Bracken is damaging to the archaeology and so we undertook a 3-year trial with English Heritage to assess mechanical (cutting and rolling) and chemical treatments to control the bracken. Whilst the chemical treatments were very effective, rolling and cutting also significantly impacts the vigour and density of the bracken. As we now farm fully organically (we are in transition and will be accredited Organic in August 2022), our future options for bracken control is cutting and rolling. Rolling is effective in tall bracken, but after a few years the resulting suppressed growth is too short to be rolled. Cutting is more effective, but the steep slopes, and very narrow gateways limit area we can currently cut (using a tractor mounted topper) to just the area at the southern end (right hand side in photo above).
To be able to cut the rest of the area we want to purchase a Rapid Rex walk behind tractor with a cutter bar. This machine is designed for cutting alpine hay meadows and provides a safe way of cutting the steep slopes of these fields and the lynchets on the other side of the valley.
Timing: 2021 – 22. Purchase of machine
2022 – 23 & 2023 – 24. Cutting of Hamel Down fields
3b. Top wiring of ‘rabbit wall’
Along the boundary between Challacombe Farm & Headland Warren is a drystone wall built in the 18C to stop rabbits from escaping. It forms the parish boundary between Manaton & North Bovey and runs on the top of a Bronze Age reeve. Whilst it is in good condition, it is not high enough to stop Scottish Blackface sheep from climbing over it and regularly knocking sections down. This is a particular problem in the spring when we keep our fields unstocked to enable the bluebells to flower and seed, but there is little fresh growth on the common.
The sheep appear to mainly get over the wall on the lower flatter section, between the bridleway and the road (red on photo below), and so we propose to protect this section by erecting 250 metres of 3 strand barbed wire fence along the outside (red line on photo below). To minimise visual impact of the fence we will use Clipex metal stakes and strainers rather than standard timber posts.
Timing: 2021 – 22.
4. Access improvements:
In addition to the public rights of way and CROW open access land they are a number of permissive paths (we don’t receive payment for these) which are marked on OS mapping:
Manaton Footpath No. 4 – upgraded to Permissive bridleway (this is the path that goes across Challacombe Down into Soussons Forest and forms part of a popular circular walk / ride from the Warren House Inn / Bennetts Cross through Challacombe Farm and Headland Warren.
Permissive footpath from Hamel Down common below Two Barrows to the road, that features in several circular walk books.
Permissive bridlepath from the ‘mile straight’ / Postbridge road to the farm house. This enables riders to legally get off the road and join the bridlepaths. Without this link riders would have to go about a mile north or west to get onto the bridleway at either Headland Warren or Soussons Farm.
The main paths through the farm have also been improved to ensure they are suitable for use by rugged mobility scooters, and we have hosted walks for the Disabled Ramblers and other similar groups. We annually host c. 20 guided walks / educational visits for a wide range of groups, including Ranger Ralph and home schoolers.
Points 1 & 2: These locations both have narrow awkward single step stiles, and we propose to replace them with 2 step stiles with ‘dog gates’ and a hand post.
Points 3 & 4: These are locations where there are currently field gates & (and at 4 a stile) providing walkers and horseriders access onto farm tracks that then link to the public bridleway. These are both metal gates that have dropped on their hinges and are difficult (particularly for horse riders) to open and shut, and so to make it easier we propose to install bridle gates next to the field gates. At Point 4. The interpretation board is faded, so we plan to update the design and replace it.
Point 5: This is currently a 12ft wooden field gate, but because of its weight it has pulled the post over slightly so it drags on the ground and so does not swing easily. To remedy this is proposed to install a 10ft gate with the new hanging post braced to the old post.
Point 6: Alongside the bridleway is an interpretation board explaining about the history of the farm from the bronze age onwards. However, because the text says ‘on the hill behind you is Grimspound’ it has to be sited facing the road, and as a result the board (mounted on a large stone) is visible from the road. To remedy this, we propose to update the board and move it to the other side of the track, so only the rear of the stone the board is mounted on is visible from the road.
Point 7: This section of bridleway is misaligned and we suspect it is a mapping error when the definitive map was first drawn up. The definitive / legal line of the path would be nigh impossible for any horserider to have ever used as it runs through tin mining remains and across a bog. On all old mapping the track clearly runs along the route of the permissive path which is a level direct track, and is the one that is waymarked and used. This causes problems to some walkers as looking at their map they think the bridleway goes across the farm drive bridge before heading north towards Headland Warren, and if they try this they end up in a bog, or retracing their steps. To resolve this issue, we propose to formally divert the path onto the ‘correct’ / walked route.
Points 8 & 9: To improve the waymarking on the bridleway as it passes in front of the farm house and cottages we will install 2 new oak fingerposts with destination info on, along with a bridleway sign plate on the bridle gate.
· New gates x 3 at 3, 4 & 5 & update interpretation boards: 2021 – 22
· Other works: 2022 – 23