Week of free walks and talks to mark Sidmouth nature group’s first birthday

A nature conservation group in Sidmouth is inviting people to help celebrate its first birthday by taking part in a week of free guided walks and talks.

The Sid Valley Biodiversity Group was set up in June 2020 by a small band of enthusiasts who had been inspired by discussions at Sidmouth Science Festival.

They recognised the rich diversity of wildlife in Sid Valley, but were concerned about how climate change and habitat loss is affecting the area’s natural environment.

The idea for the group gathered strength during the first coronavirus lockdown when many people were taking regular walks, appreciating their local wildlife, observing the changing seasons and benefiting from time spent in nature.

The steering group communicated over Zoom, only meeting face-to-face for the first time a few weeks ago.

But despite the many challenges of the past year, the group has continued to thrive, facilitating a number of projects and encouraging residents to take part in national conservation campaigns.

The group works with the community to enhance and enrich the biodiversity of Sid Valley.

It helps people to understand the variety and importance of wildlife in the valley and encourages them to take action to benefit nature conservation.

The group is also working with local organisations, authorities, businesses and land owners on biodiversity-enhancing projects.

Councillor Denise Bickley, of East Devon District Council and Sidmouth Town Council, has kept a close involvement with the group since the start.

She said: “I’m delighted that the wonderful Sid Valley Biodiversity Group has flourished throughout its first year.

“The group has gained traction, recruiting more and more talented, knowledgeable supporters and eager volunteers and is now highly regarded by other towns and organisations in East Devon.

“Our environment needs us now more than ever and doing whatever we can to improve wildlife biodiversity and monitoring changes, both good and bad, provides excellent scientific data to build upon.

“Citizen science projects, involving local residents, help to improve mental health and community spirit and pass skills on from our experts to a wider population, all achievements to be very proud of. Happy anniversary SVBG!”

Working with volunteers, the group is carrying out a number of surveys including recording the species and flowering time of herbaceous plants at a number of sites across the valley.

Another citizen science project is monitoring the River Sid and its catchment. This is part of a nationwide project, administered in the south west by the Westcountry Rivers Trust.

Volunteer Jan Metcalf said: “Our team of volunteers survey the Sid at four locations together with the main tributary streams and Glen Goyle.

“We look out for problems such as invasive species, pollution discharges and litter.

“We also record positive attributes of the environment including otters, kingfishers, dippers, wagtails and the presence of a myriad of aquatic creatures.

“The information collected will, over time, enable us to better understand the Sid Valley water courses, note any changes, celebrate the positives and try to make improvements where possible.”

The surveys will establish the baseline for what is already present in the area.

Guided by professionals, the group will determine which other species should be surveyed over the next couple of years.

The results will help the group to contribute evidence-based proposals to be included in a nature recovery plan for Sid Valley.

Jeremy Woodward, one of the group’s founding members and representative of the Vision Group for Sidmouth, is pleased with the progress made in a short amount of time.

He said: “It’s been a real inspiration to see so much activity highlighting the richness of wildlife in Sid Valley.

“Looking at the issues around climate change, enhancing biodiversity can only be a win-win for both people and the natural world.

“We have made a great start and are now planning the next steps we can take to help our environment for residents and visitors and for future generations.”

More information on the The Sid Valley Biodiversity Group is available here.

Full programme of Sid Valley Biodiversity Group events

Monday, June 28 – 11am – 12.30pm
Join Kate Ponting, countryside learning officer at Clinton Devon Estates, for a stroll around Mutter’s Moor which has recently become part of the UK’s newest National Nature Reserve. Kate will give an overview of the biodiversity, conservation management and future challenges facing this important heathland area. A fairly level walk of around 2.5km. Meet at Mutter’s Moor car park, Peak Hill Road. Grid Reference SY 1094 8723.

Tuesday, June 29 – 2pm – 3.30pm
John and Jean Twibell will give a guided tour of their 2.5-acre woodland garden containing native plants and a meadow area. They also hold the National Artemisia Collection and an optional tour is available at the end. Farthing Wood, Broadway, Sidmouth EX10 8HS for a 14:00 start. The garden is on a slope and has uneven paths.

Wednesday, June 30 – 10.30am – noon
Ed Dolphin and John Twibell lead a guided walk examining maritime plants and the challenging conditions in which they thrive. Meet at the entrance to Connaught Gardens by the top of the ramp. This walk will be on a paved area, down the ramp and along the millennium walkway. Grid Reference SY1196 8699.

Thursday, July 1 – 3pm – 4pm
Zoom talk by Simon Browning, Senior Data & Evidence Officer with Westcountry Rivers Trust. Topic – “How the West Country Rivers Trust monitoring scheme will help promote biodiversity.” Joining instructions for the Zoom talk here.

Friday, July 2 – 10.30am – 12.30pm
Join Sidmouth Arboretum’s guided tree walk, a gentle, two-hour stroll along footpaths through the parish churchyard, Blackmore Gardens and The Byes. Meet at 10.30am outside Sidmouth Museum, Church Street, Sidmouth EX10 8LY. There is a charge of £2.50 per person for this walk.

Saturday, July 3 – 2pm – 4pm
Ed Dolphin will be in Alma Field to help children and adults improve their spotting skills with a wildflower treasure hunt. Alma Field is at the coastpath end of Alma Lane, Grid Reference SY1323 8749. Arrive any time between 2pm and 4pm.

Sunday, July 4 – 10.30pm – noon
Join Kate Tobin and Jon Ball at The Knapp Local Community Nature Reserve to see the work that has been done to promote biodiversity. You can contribute to this work by helping us collect and spread yellow rattle seeds. Meet at The Knapp entrance in Station Road, close to Alexandria Road, grid reference SY1216 8846.

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