Past, Present and Future on East Devon’s Pebblebed Heaths

The Jurassic Coast Trust and Clinton Devon Estates recently ran a talk and field trip for students at Feniton Primary School in East Devon, helping them to learn more about the unique pebblebed heath landscape of the area.

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Chris Woodward speaks to children about East Devon’s Triassic geology

Jurassic Coast Ambassador Chris Woodward gave students the geological background of the area in terms of its “Deep Time” stories, and connection to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, focusing on the Triassic-age rocks that underlie this part of East Devon. Kate Ponting from Clinton Devon Estates then talked about the human impact on the common land of the pebblebed heaths, both historically and currently, including the recent wildfire that destroyed many hectares of heathland.

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Feniton Primary School children with quadrat

During the follow-up field trip to Woodbury Common, the children had the opportunity to walk across the site looking and listening for signs of wildlife, and identified different flora species using “quadrats”. They also learned about conservation methods such as controlled grazing of cattle and ponies, fire management, the remains of military uses of the common land, and about the underlying Triassic bedrock. This enabled a complete “past, present and future” picture of the land to be established, inviting children to think about the role they can play in conserving this unique area into the future.

Kate Ponting speaks to children on Woodbury Common

The collaboration is one of many planned between The Jurassic Coast Trust and Clinton Devon Estates, with the latter having recently come on board as a Lead Business Partner of the Trust. The two organisations will be working closely together during Pebblebed Heathweek in late July, and on future educational projects in East Devon.

Kate Ponting said of the collaboration, “Clinton Devon Estates are pleased to be able to fund the work of the Jurassic Coast Trust. We also value the support of local Jurassic Coast Ambassadors who work with us on a number of public events each year, on the coast in East Devon as well as on the Pebblebed Heaths.

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A cross-section of the pebblebeds of East Devon

The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths are amongst the most highly regarded conservation sites in Europe. Named after the Budleigh Salterton (Bunter) Pebblebeds which underlie them, the rock that formed the sandstone pebbles originated 440 million years ago, with the pebbles themselves forged and deposited by riverine erosion in a mountainous, arid landscape at a time when all the world’s contingents were joined as the ‘supercontinent ‘Pangaea’.

The Pebblebeds, which are over 30 metres deep in places, give rise to freely draining, very acid, sandy and loamy soils of low fertility. Lowland heathland is a priority for nature conservation because it is an extremely rare and threatened habitat.

Clinton Devon Estates’ Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust ensure this threatened ecosystem is protected, to ensure all wildlife associated with the heathland flourishes, to protect public access, encourage responsible public enjoyment of the heaths, and promote environmental education. Without careful management, heathland can deteriorate into scrub, and this valuable open habitat with its rare animal and plant life would be lost.

The Conservation Trust undertakes outdoor environmental education work, and we are excited about collaborating more closely with the Jurassic Coast Trust so local school children can fully understand how the Triassic pebbles contribute to this unique and important place.”