Conservation issues around the vegetation of the Valley of Rocks and Hollerday Hill.

C.E.Ridsdale

Historical Background

Vegetation: Valley of Rocks

Fig. 1 Ward, Lock and Co: Guide Lynton, Lynmouth, Exmoor, Minehead and the Land of Lorna Doone 12th Ed. c. 1932  Scree, bracken and gorse are clearly visible. Note area cricket ground! Fig. 2 Current vegetation Feb. 2004.  Note Scree area decreased due to bracken invasion Area of cricket field extended Reclamation !

The recent Stirling University Report (17.01.04) based on aerial photography failed to interpret the old black and white aerial photos of 1948. However, comparison with historical photos (Fig 1-2) from c. 1932 shows that there is some small change in one area of scree, this being colonized by bracken from the margins. In the same guide there is photo of "Mother Mel drums Cave" clearly showing bracken, which can be seen on the left hand side of the road in both (Fig. 1 & 2) illustrations. The bracken behind the cricket club and the trees were there in c. 1932 as was the current area of gorse. The goat population at that period was probably very limited (no counts available).

A review of collections of Post Cards based on pictures has not been done, but could provide additional information.

Fig. 3  Earlier etchings e.g. G.Townsend 1853 tend to indicate, even giving limits of artistic interpretation, a more open vegetation (based on the clear visibility of stones) and the name "stone valley" Some etchings indicate the presence of sheep grazing.



To date we have no indication of when bracken began to invade the Valley of Rocks.

However, Southey’s description "..the vale, which runs from east to west, covered with huge stones and fragments of stone among the fern which fills it;…" suggests that it is ancient and pre 1800, but probably covering a lesser area than present.

Robert Southey

Footpath erosion on "Castle Rock" is less than in the 1920’s-30’s!

Historical Vegetation: Hollerday Hill.

Historical Vegetation: Hollerday Hill.

Photographs from the 1880’s (e.g. J.Travis, An illustrated History of Lynton and Lyn mouth (1995) p. 86 top, 100 top &123 top) indicate that originally Hollerday Hill consisted of enclosed fields, which by about 1910 showed signs of converting to scrubland as seen with view of the convent.

Hollerday Hill J.Frith 1870 Co Ltd.

Lynmouth & Hollerday Hill with Newnes House : undated postcard.

Photos of the same period show that Lynmouth had some woody vegetation on the steep cliffs, which may have been a seed source for the subsequent vegetation on Hollerday Hill.

Historical Rights & Stakeholders

Whilst the ownership of the land has passed to the local council, the grazing rights are not owned by them. The commoners’ grazing rights have been in possession of the owners of Six acre farm for many generations although the local council have contested this. In terms of Conservation Management of the non forest areas which fall under the grazing rights, the responsibility of the council for conservation actions are unclear, but they claim the right to cull the feral animals (which are neither native species nor farmed animals) the holder of grazing rights is responsible for damage caused by their farmed animals but not wild (Deer) nor feral animals. As the council owns the land then conservation management is a two way process between the Stakeholders, which probably also include the Cricket Club and private establishments, and others. The cricket club dates from 1876. However, the cricket pitch area has changed over time! There even seems to be no up to date analysis of the stakeholders, also to be included could be the County Council with the vehicle carriageway, international coastal footpath, perhaps represented by the Ramblers Association – footpath access in general. These complex issues need to be resolved. For instance envisage an aerial bracken spraying operation – who is involved –the above plus probably water catchment authorities- and others. Public access to road and footpaths would need to be controlled, etc. etc. The Council should realise that simple land ownership gives few actual rights in this modern world, and land stewardship is a long term investment Bracken control is minimal a 5 year program. ! Such programs need to continue beyond the extent of periods of political appointments and functions within the democratic Council system.

Dialogue between the stakeholders and the council seems not to have progressed beyond a feudal relationship, which blocks all development. It is important that these problems have been researched and solved before an EU agreement can be validated. Having gone through this process the council is then in position to augment its budget with additional grants

Management Problems

The area under discussion can be divided into two areas with different types of management problems

Woodlands & woody tree-shrub vegetation (excluding gorse)

This is mainly woodland on Hollerday Hill (Fig. 4) and woody elements in the Valley of Rocks. (Fig.5)

Fig. 4 Hollerday Hill Mixed Ash, Birch with some Beech, Oak & Sycamore. Note planted Conifers Fig. 5 Valley of Rocks up from Picnic Area, Note invasive Sycamore

The woodland needs to be managed, as at present, with a consortium of ENP & Council working with other agencies and volunteers. A phased management plan is required for the mixed woodland, basically an extension of the present activities, with removal of exotic elements, including Buddleia, (Fig. 6A) Prunus lauroceras, (Fig. 6B) Rhododendron (fig 6.C) and potentially Sycamore.

Fig. 6a Butterfly bush (Buddleia) Fig. 6b Laurel  Fig.6c Rhododendron

Management Decisions.

Reference to the above photo (Fig 4) highlights a major management decision problem, there is a solid core of plantation conifers between the site of the ruins of Hollerday House and the Iron Age fort. Behind Honeypot cottage there are also poorly surviving relics of planted conifers, mainly firs and Cypress. Some Holm oak also occurs in the same area. I would suggest that the conifers in the sector behind Honeypot cottage be removed (excluding large pines which would cause large logging damage) and that the central core of conifers remain intact during the first planning period to 2010.

The town side of the woodland has a dense ground cover of ivy (Fig.7 A), which contrasts with the coastal side (Fig. 7C) which has an open ground cover. are needs to be taken to preserve the plants of Spurge Laurel [Daphne luteola] (Fig 7B) found on the left of Snowball path after the 1st wall.

Fig.7a Heavy ivy ground cover Fig.7b Spurge Laurel "Snowball" footpath  Recorded only from Somerset in ENP lists Fig.7c Open cover with rush coast side

  The woodlands are mixed with many British woody elements present. Ψ= naturalized/exotic

Ash Fraxinus excelsior
Beech Fagus sylvatica
Birch, silver Betula pendula
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa
Ψ Conifers misc. --
Elder Sambucus nigra
Gean Prunus avium
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Hazel Corylus avellana
Holly Ilex aquifolium
Ψ Holm Oak Quercus ilex
Oak Quercus petraea
Pine Mainly Pinus spp.
Ψ Sweet chestnut Castanea sativa
Ψ Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus
Fig. 8 Excellent clearing scheme near Iron Age Fort

An initial management plan to remove sycamore, alien weeds and planted trees could easily be made and spread over a period of 5 years until 2010 and then reviewed. This would give time to cultivate trees required for in-planting in the last year.

Problem areas are patches of pure sycamore, at the rear of the old cemetery and at the end of the path towards V.oR. from Honeypot cottage. These consist of mature trees with no regeneration beneath.

Phased removal and active implanting with local species and progeny e.g. Gean/Blackthorn could be considered. A long-term plan for these sections is vital.

Generally speaking a management solution, extending the latest, excellent, pilot clearing scheme (Fig.8), should prevent no problems. Coppicing of sections, particularly on the coastal side could also be an option.

Financial offset, of utilization of the cut timber as firewood, is unlikely to cover the equipment costs, even using volunteer labour.

Blackthorn scrub

There are significant areas of this type of scrub on Hollerday Hill, e.g. town side rear of the old cemetery, various areas on the summit, and in the Valley of Rocks along the picnic area.  These areas provide good dense cover needed by various bird species – e.g. Bullfinch, and also, when fruiting, a good food resource. Active conservation and extension of such areas is advised.

Misc. Elder & Hawthorn scrub

The same comments apply to these species which are probably overgrown relics of previous hedgerows. Old elder trees also support a specific lichen flora on the bark and trunks.  Active extension of such an association in the region of the beginning of the valley is an option.

Sycamore invasion (Bracken area near picnic ground)

If not controlled it is possible that the area will become wooded.In my opinion the only way to maintain the present landscape appearance is to fell the sycamore and actively replant with Rowan/Mountain Ash which does occur naturally in such similar areas in other sites.

Recommendations

A rapid appraisal survey be made in year 1 to estimate the number of trees which will be required for active in-planting and these may be contract grown by the local Exmoor forest nurseries already receiving a grant from Exmoor Sustainable Development Fund.

Herbaceous vegetation covered by grazing rights (including gorse)

These areas can broadly be divided into 6 zones:

  1. Bracken
  2. Heather
  3. 3. Gorse
  4. a) Natural Grassland
    b) Artificial Grassland- Picnic Area- Cricket Grounds
  5. Scree Slopes
  6. Coastal cliffs (not reviewed – no management possible)
Bracken

The Bracken seems to be the most controversial issue. The extent has been plotted by the recent Stirling University Report. (Fig.2). The historical extent can be seen by the illustration (Fig. 1) above. It has been present in approximately the same area for about 75 years.

  • It is on steep difficult slopes
  • Underneath are numerous boulders
  • Spraying control needs two applications at the height of the tourist season!
  • What is the purpose of the exercise?

 

Bracken Crusher

Limited control could be affected by continual bruising along advancing front areas, either by mechanically pulled, or horse drawn bracken crusher equipment (probable cost c. £1,200) excluding vehicle or horse. Limited backpack spraying could be done on scree area and any other delicate localities (c. £75 per ha excl equipment) – figures need checking!

In my opinion this has a low priority in the main area of the Valley of Rocks.

The area near the roundabout could be targeted to prevent bracken invasion into the coastal grassland, bruising is the only realistic option here.

Heather

The areas have been mapped by the Stirling University Report. Heather management is well known. Much of the current area is in danger of visitor-inflicted fire, as is much of the moorland. Compared to neighbouring areas, e.g. Woody Bay to Heddon’s Mouth and Hangman and Holdstone Down, the area is not of major significance. However, the management plan should attempt to improve heather coverage over bracken.

Gorse

Here again the current distribution of the gorse thickets has been indicated by the Stirling Report. (Fig.8 –title incorrectly given as bracken!)

It is an important habitat, particularly for stonechats, linnets, and others birds. Standard management practices can be applied for control and rejuvenation of the gorse scrub. Cost factor needs to be calculated.

Gorse behind cricket ground
A Natural Grassland.

It seems to have been overlooked that historical photos indicate that the whole of the top of Hollerday Hill was enclosed (the walls still remain) and was unimproved grassland used, we assume, for rough grazing. It is interesting to note that remnant grassland occurs in the area near the Iron Age Fort.

Is this the last remnants of the original unimproved grassland?  If so URGENT measures are required to preserve this habitat.

Fig. 9a  Ling invading the grassland Fig. 9b  Brambles invading grassland

This grassland area is reduced to a minimal area, with invasion by Ling (Fig.9A) and bramble.  (Fig. 9B) Of the herbaceous vegetation this needs the most urgent immediate attention. At present this area seems to be outside of current browsing patterns of the goats

Scree

Investigation as to cause of vegetation invasion of the scree slope, indicated above (Fig.1 & 2) with a purple arrow, needs to be done. Action by backpack spraying of bracken and brambles is feasible.

Recommendations.

  1. Approach Exmoor Society Natural History Section to provide a biodiversity survey at least plant species growing in the area concerned.
  2. In my opinion BRAMBLE invasion may be critical to vegetation invasion. This needs to be investigated and opinions of local farmers asked.
  3. Check local postcard collections to see if these can be used for vegetation documentation
The Goats and the Vegetation.

There are a large number of reports, which have been produced by Raymond Werner, regarding the goats of Lynton and their habits, the latest is February 2004 These reports contain a vast amount of information regarding the relationships of the goats to the vegetation and their grazing habits.

I will repeat some main points of his observations:

Fig. 10 Male goat grazing ivy on Hollerday Hill

Conclusions: There is no evidence of negative effects of the goats on the vegetation

Currently they actively utilize c. 160 ha of the 300 ha available

Towards a solution.

Fig. 11 The Cemetery, which like the field is South of the recycling pavilion

The major problem is the interaction of the goats with certain areas, which are important to sections of the local population. Basically the cemetery and people’s gardens. The council has not yet made public any analysis of critical areas of reported trespass of the goats.

Cemetery

It is obvious that goats eating flowers on a grave is very emotional to the person concerned.  Above is a view of the area involved (Fig.11). It is quite clear that one can fence the two sides and rear of the area without any detrimental visual affects. The council could provide a more stylish fencing on top of the stonewall. This would remove one obvious public grievance.  The vegetation is wet grassland as can be seen, the only area of its kind in the Valley.

However the Council seems to prefer to "improve" the field for unspecified wildlife. This would seem to be a low priority option!

Exmoor Sustainable Development Fund http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/About_Us/SDF/Projects.asp

We find the following information:

Lynton and Lynmouth Town Council

Community Composting and wildlife reserve Feasibility Study

£1250

01/03/2003

To investigate the feasibility of installing a community recycling facility and composting unit on the current overflow car park in the Valley of Rocks. The Town Council also wishes to improve the field to the south for wildlife. It is proposed to employ a landscape practice to draw up some sketch proposals and costs for the project.

The Cricket Grounds.

As noted in the introduction the Cricket Club is an old stakeholder in the Valley.  Replace the stile and perhaps the goats will stay out. Nearby there is, unfortunately rich sown grassland at the picnic grounds, which would be more attractive.

See report Raymond Werner Feb 2004

The gardens backing onto the Woodlands

Surely a 50-50 grant to improve protective fencing could again be reconsidered

Shelter

Remove the covered shelters at the beginning of the coastal path, which has long been used by the goats, probably mainly the male goats. Again perhaps an alternative shelter area could be found.

Problems remaining:

Public Information.

Public attitudes to animals are a matter of perception, particularly as many visitors have not been confronted with feral goats with large horns before.

There are signs "Please keep dogs on a lead" at the beginning of the coastal path. That is all!

The Friends of the Goats privately produce a leaflet, with information on troublesome goats and goats in trouble. These are available at the National Park Information Centre Lynmouth, where large numbers are distributed, and at the Tourist Information Office Lynton, where few are circulated.

This situation needs to be reviewed, it poorly contrasts to the responsible positive attitudes found in other European countries e.g. Netherlands (see below) which produce (semi-) permanent signs at the beginning of public footpaths.

Understanding Goats Veluwezoom – public information board at beginning of a footpath
http://www.home.zonnet.nl/hanskampf/index3.html

It needs a positive effort to move forward to improve the area concerned.

Perhaps environmental management could for once be separated from politics and a comprehensive plan developed to cover the period until 2010.

The time in 2004 URGENTLY is needed for dialogue and consultation so that the first phase can start in 2005 for a 5-year period.