27th September 2017
Queen’s Marsh Dartington and other Ornithological Projects on the Dartington the Estate
Queen’s Marsh (16 acres – 7.1ha) is immediately on the left as you enter the Dartington Estate from Totnes (Lower Drive). Originally, this was a navigable inlet from the R Dart until the Totnes weir was installed down river in 1584. Over the centuries it silted up and in recent times became an impoverished grazing marsh which often floods in winter. The Dartington Hall Trust are now restoring Queen’s Marsh as a wetland with two ponds, seven scrapes, fresh marsh, a reed-bed between the two ponds and flower meadows. The Bidwell Brook, which runs along the southern edge of the marsh, is to be regraded. The Environment Agency has funded the “wetting” of the marsh as part of their flood prevention scheme for Totnes and Halwell-based engineers, Landmarc, have carried out the excavation work. Support has also been received from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery for interpretation boards.
A small group of Dartington Hall Trust (DHT) ornithological volunteers have been monitoring the marsh prior to the excavations and will continue to do so as it is developed as a wetland and after it has been restored. As with all new wetlands, there will be immediate wildlife benefits and Queen’s Marsh will provide a new habitat on the Dartington Estate. It will also provide a new wetland site for the South Hams, albeit effectively extending the existing influence of the tidal reach of the R Dart below the weir and Totnes, where such sites are few and far between, and will be a potential autumn stop-over for wetland species, such as marsh waders, between the Devon County Council nature reserve at Stover and the coast.
During the excavations in late July and after heavy rain flooded the larger of the two ponds, up to 40 Mallard and three Herons were immediately attracted to the site demonstrating just how quickly a new wetland can become of interest to birds. Sadly, the pond had to be drained in order that excavation could continue but it is anticipated that marsh waders such as Sandpipers and Snipe will be attracted to the site – Common Sandpiper are often seen on autumn migration at Totnes weir and Green and Wood Sandpipers have been recorded at Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham this autumn. During winter, it is anticipated that a greater variety of wildfowl may be attracted, particularly when the marsh floods. In summer, Reed Buntings and other reed-bed species may well be attracted to breed.
Other developments on the site are to include a board walk and bird hide for public interest and enjoyment. Also a wet woodland is planned, adding to that adjacent to the weir, which is supported by the Woodland Trust but dependant on the completion of regrading the Bidwell Brook. A further £30,000 is sought for this and to create new and improved habitat features in the brook using natural materials such as gravels and brush-wood mattresses to provide better habitat for fish to spawn providing fry and other prey for such species as Kingfisher and Dipper both of which already occur. This will also reduce sedimentation which can exacerbate local flooding. Anyone interested in supporting this aspect of the project are asked to make donations at www.dartington.org/
Although the site will be monitored by the DHT ornithological volunteer group, we are keen that any members of Devon Birds visiting the site send us their records as well as submitting them to Devon Birds. All records will be forwarded to the Devon Biological Records Centre.
In addition, a 48 acre Agroforestry plot has been established between the Dartington Hall gardens and Foxhole (formerly Dartington School). This has been planted with strips of apples, Sichuan peppers and elderflower, all to be harvested by local businesses. Wheat and clover will be the primary crops grown between these “forestry” strips and will be harvested by the Estate tenant farmer. The ornithological group has also been monitoring this site and will continue to do so as it develops. It is thought to be the first such Agroforestry plot to be monitored before, during and after development in the UK. although there has been very little bird life to date except around the tree-lined edges.
Other ornithological projects on the Estate include an ongoing nest box scheme in Dartington Hills Plantation (adjacent to Queen’s Marsh and the Dartington to Totnes cycle track) with nesting success and young survival data being submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology’s Nest Record Card Scheme (BTO – NRC) and monthly Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) counts have been carried out on the R Dart – Queens Marsh will also be counted in future. A Checklist of the commoner birds of the Dartington Estate is being prepared for members of the public to refer to when visiting the Estate and a more comprehensive historical record (“The Birds of the Dartington Estate”) is currently being researched. It is anticipated that both will be available, in due course, for resale in the Visitor Centre at Dartington Hall.