Dunsdon National Nature Reserve, Holsworthy
Until purchased by Devon Wildlife Trust in 2000, land at Dunsdon had been managed by the same family (the Hoppers) since 1927. Thanks to decades of traditional management his meadow offers a snapshot of the past showing how the region once appeared - rich in rare and spectacular wildlife and a large enough expanse to spend a whole day in. Dunsdon represents one of the best examples of traditionally managed, wet rush meadow in Britain. The range of wild flowers ensures that there is always something in bloom from early summer right through to the end of September. This supports an equally rich insect fauna: twenty six butterfly species have been recorded, including a very large and nationally important population of marsh fritillary – also marbled white, silver-washed fritillary (occasionally), common blue and purple hairstreak can be seen. Moths are more diverse still and the rather rare narrow bordered bee hawk moth has been recorded in recent years.
Dragonflies and damselflies are frequent with broad-bodied chaser, golden-ringed dragonfly, common darter and banded demoiselle being found around the wetter areas of the Bude Canal. Other easily-overlooked invertebrate groups include Red Data Book picture-wing flies, more than a dozen hoverfly species, and eleven species of snail-killing sciomyzid flies, with many more yet to be recorded.
Over 70 bird species have been recorded at Dunsdon. Breeding birds include grey heron (in a small heronry in the trees just south of the viewing platform), buzzard, sparrowhawk, skylark, song thrush, spotted flycatcher, willow tit, reed bunting, tree pipit, willow warbler, garden warbler and grasshopper warbler. Winter visitors include snipe, short-eared owl and woodcock. Barn owls use the site frequently as a feeding ground, and may be seen roosting in the trees. Mammals present on the site include fox, roe deer and badgers, and the thick hedge banks and scrubby areas also support dormice, feeding on hazel nuts and using honeysuckle as nesting material.
The pasture is grazed with hardy cattle from late summer to early autumn, and is burned - or "swaled" - in the winter months. The swaling removes the dead grass each season, allowing the delicate plants to persist, and the grazing keeps the vigorous grasses in check while maintaining a diverse structure to the sward. Areas of scrub are cut out each year.
There is little formally recorded history for the site, although Dunsdon Farm is recorded in the Domesday Book. However because the site has been farmed by the same family since 1927, the history of land management is continuous and is known. This unbroken management record is invaluable when assessing the effects of management when compared to sites which have suffered neglect.
Header image (above) © Simon Williams
How to get there
From Holsworthy, take the A3072 west towards Bude, after 2.5 miles take a right turn to Pancrasweek. Continue north past Pancrasweek church for about a mile, turn right at the T-junction, through Lana, following the lane round a sharp left bend. The entrance to the Nature Reserve is on the left, just before Gains Cross (Grid reference SS 302 080). There is a large car parking area at the end of the driveway.
Species to spot
Best time to see: June - Sept.
A pink pin-cushion-like flower which our ancestors believed cured scabies (hence "scabious"). It has short, stubby roots which - according to legend - were bitten off by the Devil to prevent its healing powers.
Best time to see: All year
Male skylarks can be spotted rising almost vertically from the ground, hovering and singing from a great height before parachuting back down to earth. Despite their aerial activities, skylarks nest on the ground, laying three to four eggs. Image (c) Stefan Johansson
Marbled white butterfly
Best time to see: June - Aug.
A distinctive medium-sized white butterfly, with black-chequered markings, often be found feeding on purple flowers such as common knapweed. The caterpillars feed on grasses. Image © Adam Hincks/CC BY_SA
This frothy flower derives its name from its leaves which form a circlet - or 'whorl' - around the base of its stem. Although its related to the spice Caraway, it has no culinary or medicinal use. Image © Plantlife/Bob Gibbons
Best time to see: All year.
Its silent flight and piercing screech have earnt it names like 'ghost owl' and 'death owl'. Able to hunt both night and day its heart-shaped face directs high-frequency sounds, helping it to find its prey. Image © Les Binns.