Celebrating volunteering in the Blackdown Hills AONB

 In Volunteering

This week is volunteers week and what better time than now to celebrate all the hard work which the volunteers do across the Blackdown Hills to support the AONB’s core work:

  • Providing and maintaining habitats for wildlife
  • Conserving the area’s rich heritage
  • Stimulating interest in the area’s natural environment, history and culture, and
  • Helping people from all walks of life to enjoy the wonderful countryside around us.

Despite having had a disjointed year during the pandemic, we have strived to get volunteer groups, training opportunities and surveying work back up and running despite this often being in smaller  groups. We have been overwhelmed with the level of support and interest in volunteering and helping out within the AONB over the past year. We aim to help people find the right volunteer role for them whether this is with us or with one of the many brilliant organisations throughout the Blackdown Hills.

Here are some of the highlights of the past year….

Heritage management practical days

Clearing ramparts at Hembury Hillfort

We worked alongside Devon County Council to host practical countryside work parties on two Heritage at Risk sites in the Blackdown Hills AONB over the autumn and winter – Dunkeswell Abbey and Hembury Hillfort. These practical days aimed to support the return of sociable, outdoor volunteering, as well as ongoing protective management of nationally important monuments, within the Blackdown Hills AONB area. The tasks undertaken varied at each site but involved scrub clearance, sapling removal, wildflower meadow sowing, and even an opportunity to try hedge laying.

We hope to resume these sessions this summer and autumn – please visit our volunteering page for updates.

Crayfish surveying volunteers

Checking a crayfish trap

Led by Nicky Green, a crayfish ecologist and researcher, the crayfish surveying volunteers were out once more surveying the Sheldon stream last summer; setting and checking non-invasive crayfish traps to check for the existence of our native white-clawed  crayfish on a previously unmonitored stream. Work continues this year to prepare safe, ark sites for these white-claws, with volunteers clearing  the ponds of weed in preparation for the introduction of captive bred crayfish later in the year.

Find out more about the crayfish project.


Wildlife surveying:  adders and nightjars


The varied landscape of the Blackdown Hills AONB supports a rich assemblage of wildlife and part of what the AONB aims to do is to understand more about the species that live here. To do this we work with volunteer groups, landowners and other partners such as Forestry England and Somerset Reptile and Amphibian Group to survey for threatened or under-researched species such as adders and nightjars in order to understand how best to manage the habitat where they are found and how populations are changing.

Find out more about getting involved with this year’s nightjar surveying

Working with community groups

This work has been the most effected during the past year and something we hope to boost as much as possible over the coming year. We have, however, managed to run regular health walks for Chard WATCH group at Chard Reservoir and hope to continue to work closely with them over the coming year.

Online talks and training

With fewer opportunities over the past year to meet up in person and many volunteers at home shielding we provided a variety of well-attended online talks during the course of the winter and the lockdowns in collaboration with the Quantock and Mendip Hills AONBs, Somerset Wildlife Trust and other local project partners. These talks included ‘Beavers in the Blackdown Hills’ by Devon Wildlife Trust and ‘An Introduction to Steart Marshes’ by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, to name just a few.

If you would like to know more about volunteering with the Blackdown Hills AONB or would like to talk with us about promoting your community or volunteering group, please get in touch by emailing  blackdownhills@devon.gov.uk or sign up to receive our volunteering newsletter.

Volunteers gorse clearing

Volunteers clearing paths at Staple Hill.


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