On Wednesday evening, 18th April, I gave a presentation to the Buckland Monachorum Parish Council AGM at Clearbrook Village Hall. Initially, the Commoners Association were asked to provide someone to talk about the gorse work done on the Plymouth Leat. As I am now managing the current leat work, and we are working on Devonport Leat, a little discussion occurred and I ended up preparing material about both leats.

I started with a brief description of both leats, one Elizabethan and the other from the time of George III. Their take-off points were covered (one slide showed the West Dart weir and Devonport Leat take-off point). For this leat, slides of the end-point where it runs down the Dousland Water Works plug-hole and also the waterfall at Burrator Reservoir were shown and for Drake’s Plymouth Leat, the reservoir still in use on North Hill (just up the road from the University) was shown, see the photo below …..

Drake Reservoir, North Hill, Plymouth. Click image to see a larger version.

The organisation of the wider work was described, mentioning the DPA, Roborough Commoners Association, Maristow Estate, Natural England, Dartmoor National Park, Tavistock Taskforce and Yelverton Golf Club.

One slide showed a good 2-metre wide track on both side of Drake’s Plymouth Leat where farmers could get trailers in to remove sick animals – one of the main requisites of the scrub removal work on the leats (photo below).

Drake's Plymouth Leat showing paths and farmers' access tracks along the banks. Click image to see a larger version.

Regarding some of the work, I described crawling into “no-go” areas of hawthorn, gorse and bramble where there were no pony or sheep droppings. Here, we prepared the way for the work party so that there were places to get in by and stand up in! I also pointed out how many of the trees were multi-stemmed and had been cut a long time ago but had since regrown. We are redressing many years of neglect.

The main project considerations were:

  1. Anticipation that livestock would graze and trample cleared areas to keep down the triple horror of prickly stuff (hawthorn, gorse and bramble)
  2. Opening up of flight paths for hawks, owls, birds generally, bats and insects
  3. Creation of habitat piles (of trimmings) for insects and small mammals to live in, being also attractive to birds for feeding
  4. Improving habitat diversity for wild flowers, and thereby attracting nectar-seeking insects and insectivorous birds
  5. Adjacent scrub being left untouched (seemingly none was present on the 1906 OS map) – there are very few”old” trees in the area
  6. A new path for walkers away from the cyclists, a Commoners’ safety improvement.

Some of the audience (of forty or so people) were impressed with some of the “before” and “after” photographs. Some idea of the “vision” of the work was also given …..

  1. Archaeology – our duty to the future
  2. Plants – tree form and health, remaining scrub, wild flowers
    Disease warning – Rhododendron and Phytophthora ramorum and P. kernoviae
  3. Animals –  insects, birds and mammals
  4. Livestock welfare – farmers’ access
  5. Open access improvement – the new path for walkers

With regard to the disease warning, I mentioned that “ramorum” can also affect bilberry and heather, besides larch, spruce, beech, chestnut and alder so far known. Lanhydrock House, Bodmin, has the disease in rare rhododendrons and it can also affect viburnums and camellias. It originated in the USA as Sudden Oak Death, so it may yet become an oak tree problem in the UK. Burrator has removed 42 hectares involving 20,000 metric tonnes of larch (1 metric tonne = 1,000 kg). The number of trees felled is unknown.

A brief final slide entitled “Sums” that showed 17 work days, 315 attendances, 5 hours per day and thereby 1575 volunteer-hours worked. Commercially, that would cost a lot of money – and on the current project we are about half-way there!