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Can we reintroduce the water vole to Braunton Marshes? Natural England and North Devon UNESCO Biosphere have partnered up to find out.
The water vole, a small chestnut-brown furry mammal, was once a common sight within the network of ditches of Braunton Marshes, but they are now sadly absent. Recent evidence indicates that water voles have undergone a long-term decline in Britain, disappearing from 94% of their former sites.
The native water vole was once found throughout Britain in high numbers, occurring mainly along well vegetated banks of slow flowing rivers, ditches, dykes and lakes. Predation by the introduced American mink, habitat degradation and pollution are thought to be the main contributing factors to the decline in this wonderful mammal. The water vole is now legally protected in Britain and is on the red list of British mammals at risk of extinction in Britain.
This partnership will first identify the presence and population size of American mink within the Braunton Marshes and the findings will be used to inform the reintroduction. The Braunton Marshes are a near perfect habitat for the water vole with extensive networks of ditches with friable banks which are well vegetated with suitable food plant species.
These small mammals are really important for the ecosystem as they not only help to improve ditch flora and fauna but their feeding habits help to create lawns and burrows, allowing a more varied flora to develop. As they naturally occur in large numbers, they provide an important food source for many native predators and their absence in aquatic ecosystems has resulted in a decline in other species.
To learn more about this exciting reintroduction, come to our walk and talk at the Braunton Countryside Centre from water vole expert, Derek Gow on the 1st of April. Sign up here.
Find out more about water voles here
North Devon is a biodiversity hotspot, renowned for its spectacular scenery and wildlife. Visited by thousands of visitors every year, the tourism industry of North Devon is second to none and provides memorable and engaging experiences with the amazing array of marine life that can be seen both from the coastline and on-board local vessels.
In recognition of the keen interest shown by North Devon skippers to protect marine life, an Accredited Wildlife Safari Operator Scheme was developed in 2016. Its success has been shown by the support to Accredited Operators by visitors, “We have found the accreditation scheme very useful and informative, we found that it attracted more customers for us due us displaying the poster for accreditation and many of our customers ask what it involved and why we wanted to be involved. As skippers and crew being happy to share our knowledge has helped others around the coast.” Andrew Bengey, Skipper of Obsession II told us. As the impact of the pandemic has hit hard on the North Devon tourism industry, and to show their support of all local operators, North Devon Biosphere and Lundy have joined once again to redevelop and expand the Scheme so that it now reflects the broader coastal business sector in North Devon and is open to all North Devon businesses and individual operators who encounter coastal and marine life.
“The marine life found in North Devon is spectacular and attracts many visitors to business across the coastline. There has been an explosion in businesses operating along the coast and offshore since the initial schemes release and so now is a great time to support all our businesses by relaunching the scheme and opening it up to them all.” Andy, the Manager of North Devon Biosphere told us “As someone who regularly interacts with marine life around our coast, it really is up to us to protect it and make sure that both the species and visitors benefit from interactions”.
Today, the new Marine Wildlife Aware Accreditation Scheme (MWAAS) covering the North Devon Biosphere and Lundy has gone live, allowing any relevant business or individual to undertake training online and gain accreditation. Participants to the Scheme will receive annual training, be promoted as Wildlife Aware businesses through the relevant websites and the new North Devon Explorer App, be able to promote their businesses using the Scheme logo, have a transferable skill and have the opportunity for further support through regular webinars and updates through a members-only Facebook group.
Derek Green, the Lundy General Manager told us “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to run the wildlife accreditation scheme online, which will make it easier for charter boat skippers and other boat users who visit Lundy to take part remotely. Lundy is famed for its wealth of wildlife, and with a larger than normal number of visitors expected in the region this summer, we need to ensure that our wildlife is properly protected for everyone to enjoy. I would encourage anyone who is considering visiting the island by boat to take part and acquire the accreditation. My thanks to The North Devon Biosphere and former island Warden Beccy MacDonald-Lofts, for organising the course”.
Since it's initial launch, the course has been well received with a mix of local businesses sign up including boat operators, bed and breakfast businesses and recreational activity providers including Tom McKee and Tom Humphreys who have become individual accredited members of the Scheme. North Devon Biosphere are hosting a webinar on the Scheme at 7pm-8 pm on Thursday 17 March 2022. Sign up via North Devon Biosphere Eventbrite page.
To register your interest to participate in the Marine Wildlife Aware Accreditation Scheme (MWAAS), please register via the Accreditation Scheme tab on our North Devon Biosphere website and follow our social media pages for updates.
This project has been funded through North Devon Biosphere’s BioCultural Heritage Tourism Project which an INTERREG Channel project. This project links 2 English UNESCO Biosphere reserves with 2 French reserves to develop sustainable tourism products and experiences that ultimately help to safeguard and restore our natural capital.
North Devon UNESCO Biosphere and Torridge District Council join forces on Nature Tourism Agenda to boost sustainability across the tourism sector.
North Devon UNESCO Biosphere have joined forces with Torridge District Council to drive forward the council’s ‘Nature Tourism Agenda’, which will help businesses to grow by supporting them in showcasing the region's abundance of natural assets and adventure activities.
Nature Tourism covers three dimensions:
During March, a series of tourism workshops will be held to support and show businesses across northern Devon how to create new, bookable, nature experiences or enhance the offer they may already be providing. Hosting these workshops will be Chris Brant, Director and Founder of Unmissable England, who says "No longer do visitors just want to see the sights when they visit a place. They're looking for authentic guided experiences that connect them with the locals and the places they know best. Visitors want to be captivated by fascinating stories about nature and the landscape well beyond the tourist trail. They want to immerse themselves in local history and heritage and leave with a better understanding of the places they have experienced.
I cannot wait to see what new nature experiences are developed by local businesses in Unmissable England's latest series of experiential tourism training".
An Introduction to Experiential Tourism Webinar will be hosted by Chris, followed by an in-person workshop, which will include interactive activities to help participants discuss ideas and identify opportunities to work together to create new and unique experiences across northern Devon.
The series of FREE workshops can be found on North Devon UNESCO Biosphere’s EventBrite page, or email email@example.com for the link to the collection.
Following these workshops, Nature Tourism Officer and Biosphere Business Partner Coordinator, Sarah Jordan, will be offering a limited number of businesses a FREE 1:1 support session to discuss ways they could offer Authentic Experiences for their guests, become a more sustainable business, and increase their year-round offer. Sarah says “Having worked with numerous tourism businesses over the last couple of years on the UNESCO Biosphere’s ‘Bio-Cultural Heritage Tourism’ project, this collaboration is a logical next step to ensure we keep up the momentum of increasing sustainable tourism across the region. I can’t wait to meet new businesses and help them discover ways of increasing their offer.”
Torridge District Council have already created a range of resources to help tourism businesses extend their season, understand the wildlife and experiences that Torridge has to offer, and to bring new/targeted customer groups to their business.
The free resources include a nature tourism business toolkit, which looks at tourism patterns in Torridge, what makes our region so special, nature tourism case studies, and how businesses can develop their offer. The kit also includes free resources such as high quality photos of Torridge through the seasons, seasonal itineraries to print and display, a wildlife spotting calendar and posters on coastal and inland landscape features. This toolkit may be useful to all tourism businesses across Torridge and wider northern Devon. To be kept up to date with nature tourism news and events, businesses can sign up to the Nature Tourism mailing list: https://www.torridge.gov.uk/article/20025/Mailing-List
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The UNESCO biosphere global network connects communities around the world who are pioneering a positive future for people and nature. Together, the network covers over 5% of the Earth’s surface and is home to over 250m people.