Devon’s most loved wildlife sites

PUBLISHED: 13:41 22 December 2015 | UPDATED: 13:41 22 December 2015

Kingfisher at Bystock Pools

Kingfisher at Bystock Pools

This image is the intellectual property of Neil Bygrave and therefore protected by the United Kingdoms Designs and Patent Act

Dan Smith, of Devon Wildlife Trust, says the charity is tantalisingly close to securing the future of a popular Exmouth reserve

A silver studded blue butterfly at Bystock PoolsA silver studded blue butterfly at Bystock Pools

One of Devon’s most loved wildlife sites came under threat in 2015. But thanks to the generosity of many Devon nature-lovers, the future of Devon Wildlife Trust’s Bystock Pools nature reserve is – very nearly! – secure.

It’s less than four miles from the bustling town of Exmouth, yet Bystock Pools nature reserve feels like a haven from the noise of the modern world.

A varied landscape of woodland, open meadows, heathland, ponds and an old reservoir, Bystock is home to a wide array of wildlife. It’s this combination of peaceful beauty and wildlife wonders that have made this Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve one of the charity’s most popular.

Although the site has been managed by DWT as a nature reserve since the 1970s, this was on a long-term lease. When owners South West Water decided to sell the land in March 2015, it meant an uncertain future for the wildlife that calls Bystock home. But thanks to a longstanding working relationship between the Trust and South West Water, the company agreed to give DWT 12 months to raise the £215,000 needed to purchase the nature reserve. Following a couple of very generous gifts from local benefactors in the spring, that target was almost half-met.

A brown long-eared bat at Bystock PoolsA brown long-eared bat at Bystock Pools

In early summer, a public appeal was launched, becoming the most successful in the Trust’s history. Kind contributions came from far and wide with many donors telling stories of what Bystock meant to them: the first place they’d seen a glow worm, or somewhere they’d loved as a child and wanted their own children to enjoy in future. Despite the setback of a rejected grant application, donations continued to trickle in from late summer into the autumn. At the time of writing in early December, DWT needs just £5,900 more to ensure Bystock remains a publicly accessible green space and wildlife haven. Even at this time of year, the visitor to Bystock Pools can be greeted by a lively scene. The reservoir looks beautiful from the south entrance, surrounded by Scots pines and broadleaf trees casting their reflections in the still water.

Moorhen and mallard are the first noticeable birds - but if you’re lucky, above the water might pass the blue flash of a kingfisher. Dragonflies are unlikely to be seen, but their offspring are growing as larvae in the sediment in the bottom of the reservoir. Follow the path across the wet heath towards the woodland on a sunny day and you might spot a red admiral butterfly emerge briefly from hibernation.

In winter blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits flock together for safety. Nuthatch, goldcrest and tree creepers sometimes join them. When the weather gets really cold, flocks of redwing and fieldfare arrive on the reserve to feast on the holly berries. But it’s spring and summer when Bystock’s wildlife becomes truly memorable. Rare butterflies like the silver-studded blue and pearl bordered fritillary flit through the meadows and woodland while the air above the ponds is threaded with darting dragonflies and damselflies. When the sun goes down, Bystock’s many bat species come out to hunt for insects, while the magical illuminations of glow worms enchant the visitor. Summer also brings the other-worldly sound of breeding nightjars calling to each other after their long migratory flight from Africa. The unsung heroes of Bystock Pools are undoubtedly the volunteers who help DWT manage the reserve so it retains such a wide mix of habitat types in a relatively small area. Without this management, many of the open areas would revert to woodland, which while benefitting some species, would significantly reduce the diverse range of plants and animals that thrive there now. Many volunteers helped with the fundraising for Bystock too, selling home-made greetings cards, organising quizzes, promoting a treasure hunt and more. While the fundraising target has almost been met, right now we are at a tantalising stage – so close, but still unable to definitely say that this piece of east Devon nature heaven can remain open to all. If you, or your company, would like to help fund Devon Wildlife Trust’s purchase of Bystock please visit or get in touch with Lucy, Mike or Dan in the DWT fundraising team in Exeter on 01392 279244 or email

A long tailed tit at Bystock PoolsA long tailed tit at Bystock Pools

The butterfly and the pony

One of the rare animals that makes a home at Bystock is the silver-studded blue butterfly. This is a butterfly of heathland, laying its eggs on heather or gorse, with the caterpillars eating the tender stems, buds or flowers of heather. Most of the heathland of east Devon has been lost to agriculture or development since the Second World War, so remaining heathlands like Bystock are of great importance to the silver-studded blue. DWT uses Exmoor ponies to help keep the heathland and meadows relatively open so these butterflies can thrive – the ponies often greet visitors at the northern entrance to Bystock from spring to autumn.

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