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A wildlife haven

PUBLISHED: 12:04 23 June 2014 | UPDATED: 12:05 23 June 2014

Ranger tadpole event

Ranger tadpole event


CHRISSY HARRIS discovers the joys of Decoy Park in Newton Abbot

Decoy ParkDecoy Park

Just when you think you’ve got Devon sussed, another beautiful corner opens up.

Decoy Country Park is a glorious mix of open water, playgrounds, activity and quiet calm right in the heart of Newton Abbot.

Locals, of course, know and love this place, but for those of us who live all the way down in South Devon, it’s a real find.

Kids can play football just metres from tranquil woodlands with marked trails for people to explore the area’s rich wildlife.

A playground (given a nine out of ten rating by our experts) is brilliantly chaotic but a quick stroll alongside a wildflower meadow brings you to Magazine Pond where it’s just you and a couple of moorhens.

“What I love about this place is its diversity,” says community ranger Simon Cunningham, who has worked in Decoy Park, a former ball clay pit, for more than a decade.

“There are sports activities, a playground with water features and then peace and quiet by the lake. There’s everything going on. It’s always a challenge to get the balance right but we are not exclusive – anybody and everybody can come here. That’s the real beauty of it.”

Simon and his team seem to thrive on getting as many people covered in mud and dipping ponds as possible.

Also in Newton Abbot this month….

7 June – Classic Car Motor Show, town centre.

8 June – Junior Rangers, Decoy Park

8 June – Courtenay Park Band Concert, Courtenay Park.

14 June – Coombeshead Music Day, Clock Tower.

21 June – Newton’s Got Talent with JJ’s Music School, Clock Tower.

21 to 22 June – Dartmoor Classic Cycle event, Newton Abbot Racecourse.

28 June – Crowning of Newton Abbot’s Carnival Queen

Farmers’ Market, every Tuesday in Courtenay Street.

Trash and Treasure Market, Market Square every Friday.


There are events all year round at Decoy to encourage young and old to get into their wellies and discover the hidden nature on their doorstep.

There are Tadpole Tuesdays, creature features, ‘we like mud’ activities and bug hunts. This month junior rangers can take part in a pond dipping session.

“My passion is wildlife and nature,” says Simon. “I love the fact you can get that across to people here.

“It might be that they come here just to feed the ducks, not knowing what breeds they are but soon they can tell the differences between them and get a better understanding. What I’m aiming for is ‘eco-literacy’ – where people have an understanding of the natural world that is just there, like reading and writing.

The Ball Clay Heritage:

The Decoy area was once part of the parkland that surrounded Forde House, an Elizabethan mansion.

It was originally owned by the Courtenay family (the Earls of Devon).

The name Decoy comes from a kind of net and wattle tunnel on selected ponds used to catch water fowl.

The Decoy area was mined by Devon and Courtenay Clay Company and later Watts, Blake, Bearne and Co from 1850 until 1966.

When quarrying ceased, the pit filled with water and the land around slowly regained much of its natural vegetation.

Newton Abbot Urban District Council purchased the site in 1967.

The country park was created in 1988 with help from the Countryside Commission.

Clay can still be found at Decoy.

“I want to get kids out and learning about the world.”

The strategy clearly works. The striking thing about Decoy Park is the evidence that it’s very much a community haven.

Children from the local school have helped to leave their mark on a new boardwalk by the pond by designing carvings for the handrails.

There are memorial benches dotted around, where plaques explain how much people ‘loved this place’.

"Anybody and everybody can come here. That’s the real beauty of it "

And I couldn’t detect a scrap of litter or dog mess.

“Oh good,” says Simon. “I’m glad you noticed that. You could have the most fantastic park in the whole world but if people end up standing in dog mess, that’s the bit they remember.”

Such high standards have seen Decoy continually fly the prestigious Green Flag awarded to quality green spaces.

Parts of the site have also been declared either a County Wildlife Site (CWS) or a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The park also has a fascinating history. The sports changing rooms are regularly transformed into a pop-up museum to allow visitors to find out more about the heritage of the site that was once a busy clay pit, operated by the Devon Courtenay Clay Company and later Watts, Blake, Bearne and Co until 1966.

“It’s a really interesting place,” says mum Charlotte Driscoll, who had set up camp in the playground with flasks and a packed lunch.

“It’s great coming here with the kids because there’s something for them all to do – and you can see them doing it!

“The older ones can go and play football and the younger ones can play here. You can also go off for walks and feed the ducks.”

Charlotte had travelled from Exeter to spend the day at Decoy.

“It’s great,” says Simon. “We have lots of locals here but then we also share it with people from miles and miles away.”

By that, he means Exeter and Plymouth. But it just goes to show the benefits of heading a little further afield to explore the delights of Devon.

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