Neroche scheme

Neroche projects


 The Woodland Edge Conference took place at the end of September 2011, in the forest at Neroche.  It was a conference with a difference.  No dry scientific presentations.  No Powerpoint.  No sausages on sticks.  No post-it notes.  It was an event in the fresh air, amongst the trees, bringing together a wealth of experience and a breadth of perspectives about woodlands, nature and people, at a time of change.

The event was organised by the Forestry Commission with support from BANC, the British Association of Nature Conservationists.  A large number of volunteers took part, helping with every aspect of the event and contributing enormously to its smooth-running and viability.  Nearly 150 delegates were then treated to a truly special experience, as for three days the sun shone in an extraordinary Indian summer, and everyone found inspiration and renewed energy, there amongst the veteran oaks on the edge of the forest.

Visit the conference blog, which took shape during the course of the conference -

View a series of specially-created videos of key speakers and discussions at the conference, on the Neroche YouTube channel -



Apprenticeship Scheme

Between 2007-2008 the Forestry Commission and Ambios Ltd employed three local young people on an apprenticeship scheme, training them towards a local career in countryside management
The bespoke training programme was run for the Neroche Partnership by Ambios Ltd, a local not-for-profit environmental training company based near Crediton in Devon. Each apprentice received a programme of practical experience combined with technical training at Sparsholt College and placements within forestry related organisations. The programme lasted for 2 years and resulted in an NVQ Level 2 qualification in Forestry with a Key Skills 2 option to develop wider numeracy and literacy skills. A Forest Works Supervisor was employed to play a key role in the mentoring and development of the apprentices.

These apprentices have now finished and a further two apprentices began in 2010. This new scheme will focus on developing a pilot Forestry Apprenticeship Scheme that can eventually be delivered nationwide to address the skills gap in forestry. The new apprentices are working within the Neroche area and at Bicton College where they will carry out their training for two years. Funding comes from ‘Making it Local’, a locally managed grants scheme in the Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONB areas, incorporating funding from the EU, Defra, South West RDA and Leader.

To find out more please download the Apprenticeship Report


Digital Interpretation

The Neroche Scheme has developed Digital Trail Guides, an exciting and innovative project to explore the project area using handheld computers and the latest global positioning (GPS) technology.

Satellite technology allows us to create 'hot spots' in the countryside enabling visitors to access information about specific sites they stumble upon during their rambles in the hills. Pre-programmed information automatically appears on the screen when a person enters a 'hot spot' and can be anything in a digital format including photographs, artwork, music, stories, games' animations...the posibilities are almost endless!

The GPS positioning also provides an accurate location and navigation tool so walkers can step off the beaten track and explore more areas without ever losing their bearings.

To see a video clip about the use of Digital Trail Guides along Staple Fitzpaine Herepath trail, follow this link to our YouTube site.

The Digital Trail Guides are available to hire for free. For further information please visit the Digital Trail Guides webpage.


Forest Grazing - improving biodiversity

As part of the drive to provide more habitats for wildlife in the forest, and to enhance the landscape and access value of the forest estate, the Forestry Commission is working with local farmers to establish low-intensity grazing in parts of the Neroche forest. Longhorn Cattle in the woods

Conifers have been harvested from Wych Lodge, Buckland Wood, Staple Common, Ruttersleigh, Staple Common and Culm Davy, and grazing has been introduced at Wych Lodge, Buckland Wood and Staple Common.  Although the initial harvesting may seem harsh, the long term outcome is that of increased biodiversity and accessibility in the forest.  By creating interlinked glades, and introducing cattle, we will establish more habitats for wildlife

English Longhorn cattle were acquired in 2007, and added to in subsequent years.  This breed has been chosen because of its hardiness, its suitablility for woodland settings, and its docile nature, which means it is suitable for sites open to the public.

In due course cattle will be grazing at Wych Lodge, Staple Common, Ruttersleigh, Mount Fancy, Staple Hill, North Down, Buckland Wood and Culm Davy Plantation.

For more information, download an article on the Neroche Longhorns which appeared in View from the Blackdown Hills in May 2010 or visit the Looking after the Forest webpage

Follow the link to YouTube to find out more about our forest grazing project.


Forest Schools

Forest School is the name given to a special approach to outdoor education, which uses the natural environment as a tool in developing children's skills and confidence.

Forest SchoolForest School nurtures children's ability to deal with the outdoors, and teaches practical skills such as shelter building, tool making and fire lighting.  It counters the modern trend for children to have little contact with the natural world during their education, and it pays huge dividends in developing children's self-esteem and motor skills.  The approach works especially well with children who do not respond well in a conventional classroom environment.

Between 2007 and 2011 the Neroche Scheme organised training for nearly 50 teachers and teaching assistants from more than 25 schools across the Blackdowns, Taunton, Wellington and Chard.  The project was coordinated by Clare Neenan and training was delivered by Simon & Marijke Shakespeare at the Forest Schools Training Company (, with participants qualifying as either Forest School Leaders or Assistants.  Neroche also worked with them to develop the practical requirements to run Forest School sessions, either on their own school grounds, or by making use of local woodlands.

As a result of this project, hundreds of children across Mid Devon, Taunton Deane and South Somerset are benefitting from the Forest School approach as a normal part of their school life.

For more information about our Forest School programme, click HERE .  Follow the link to YouTube to see a DVD of Forest School in action.


Health Walks

The Neroche Scheme has in partnership with SASP (Somerset Activity and Sport Partnership) developed a Healthy Walking programme that encourages people with social and mental health problems to access the countryside. A SASP co-ordinator has been employed to work with day centres and GP referrals to make up groups who are taken by minibus out into the forest for short walks. The response from participants has been highly encouraging. The leader of the walks programme has also been involved as an advisor in Herepath trail design


Herepath Trails

The Neroche Scheme has created a network of new off-road Herepath Trails for walkers and horse riders.
Long 13.5 mile circular Staple Fitzpaine Herepath

This trail is a long distance trail, which is a good days walk or half day ride/cycle. The route follows existing public Bridleways and new sections of permissive bridleway. The trail is waymarked and easy to follow - look out for the wooden Herepath posts. The trail is suitable for walkers, experienced off-road cyclists and horse riders.



Short 1km circular All-Ability trail at Staple Hill

This trail allows everyone, including those with limited mobility, to explore the beautiful countryside of the Blackdown Hills. New viewpoints have opened up some spectacular views across the Vale of Taunton. On a clear day you can see all the way to Wales. The two viewpoints have picnic benches and seating. The trail has been designed and built to national ‘all ability’ access standards so it is easy for everyone to use. There are no steep gradients; the trail has a maximum gradient of 1:20 and is 2m wide with a compacted path surface. There are three wide kissing gates along the trail. The trail is suitable for all types of wheelchairs and pushchairs.


LiDAR - Ground truthing exercise

LiDAR stands for (Airborne) Light Detection And Ranging.

The LiDAR laser can measure the height of the ground surface and other features in large areas of the landscape with incredible accuracy, providing highly detailed and accurate models of the land surface. LiDAR operates by using a pulsed laser beam (some 10,000 –20,000 pulses per second), which is scanned from side to side as the aircraft flies over the survey area. The LiDAR laser can measure the height of the ground surface and other features in large areas of the landscape with incredible accuracy, providing highly detailed and accurate models of the land surface. LiDAR can also read beneath the woodland canopy. This makes it a very useful archaeological tool in areas of woodland, particular if these areas have been wooded for a considerable period of time. It gives archaeologists the opportunity to quite literally see through the woodland cover and at last make sense of any earthworks, which may never have been previously recorded.

The Neroche Scheme undertook a LiDAR survey of our project area in 2008. The results of this survey will be used for a variety of purposes including ‘ground truthing’. Ground truthing is a voluntary field-based exercise involving teams/groups/individuals checking for the presence of any apparent archaeological features identified as a result of the survey.

The LiDAR image shown here is of the hillfort at Orchard Hill.  This hillfort was only discovered in 1986, and the area is woodland.  Ordinary aerial photography cannot detect the features, but lidar, which is able to 'strip' off the woodland, clearly shows the ditch surrounding the hillfort. The Neroche Scheme has been able to fund a LiDAR survey of the project area thanks to additional funding raised by the current funding partners.


Opportunity to be involved

To ensure the long-term management and involvement of people in the Neroche area, the scheme has set up a few volunteering groups. These include the Neroche Conservation Volunteers, Butterfly Conservation Work Party, Herepath Trailwatchers Scheme and Heritage Group. It is hoped that in the future these groups will help to look after the Neroche area once the project has finished.

To find out more please visit the Volunteering opportunities webpage



Oral history - Stories from the past...

We have been lucky enough to be able to work with a range of local people and historical experts to record recollections, experiences and other historical information from this area. Some of the stories have been broken down into short audio clips and are available via the link below.

The Oral History Project is linked with the Voices from the Hills Project run by Judy Simmonds. We hope to provide audio clips of this project in due course

To listen some short audio clips please visit the Stories from the Past webpage



Playstreet Excavation

In September 2008 the Neroche Community History Project undertook an excavation of a site known as ‘Playstreet’, near Bickenhall.

Playstreet was a medieval settlement, which was deserted and left to ruin. Air photographs taken in 1977 showed extensive remains of the site. The settlement consisted of a street marked by a shallow holloway, with crofts and building plots on both sides, which was surrounded a triangular shaped green. The name Playstreet is probably Saxon in origin, meaning quite literally the street where people played.

An exhibition of findings from the excavation took place in Neroche Parish Hall in March 2009.

For further information download
Playstreet leaflet
Playstreet Excavation Summary
To find out more please visit the Archaeology and History webpage


Revealing the Landscape

Using art the Neroche Scheme has celebrated and revealed its landscape through natural sculpture, storytelling and music, with public events, workshops and school visits.  These have shown the Hills in a new light, drawing on inspiration from Neroche folklore, landscape, wildlife and people. 

Previous arts projects include Punkie Night, Transcience, Camera Obscura, Telling the Seasons and Touching the Seasons. Several local artists have been involved in these projects including Sally Clark, Michael Fairfax, Megan Calver, Jane Mowat, Sue Palmer, Jane Flood and Fiona Barrow.



To find out more about these projects and artists please visit the Art webpage





Ringdown Barn Restoration

Ringdown is a picturesque old barn which inspired an influential group of artists in the early twentieth century. The barn was the subject of a number of paintings by the Camden Group of artists, including Robert Bevan and Spencer Gore, who stayed at nearby Applehayes.

The barn has recently been restored by specialist contractors thanks to Heritage Lottery funding provided by the Neroche Scheme. It is located in the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Ringdown Nature Reserve on the Devon/Somerset border. Ringdown Nature Reserve is open to the public, and is situated a mile south of the Merry Harriers pub, near Garlandhayes.

To find out more please download Ringdown Barn and the Camden Town Group summary or visit Somerset Wildlife Trust page.


The Book of Neroche - Along the Wild Edge

'Along the wild Edge' was published in April 2011.  Comprising 40 chapters written by 30 local authors, the book represents the most comprehensive and colourful publication ever on the Blackdown Hills. 


4000 copies have been distributed, for free, to local residents across the area and in Taunton, Wellington and Chard.  Currently no further copies are available, but the book can be obtained on loan through Somerset Library Service (Wellington, Taunton and Chard libraries), and we plan to post pdfs of all the sections of the book on this site in due course.



Vegetation Monitoring

The Forestry Commission has embarked on a long-term programme to restore and develop more habitats for wildlife within the 1000-hectare Neroche Forest estate.  A large scale programme of conifer harvesting since 2006 has removed conifers from 250 hectares (over 600 acres), leaving a network of open ground, scattered trees, scrub and dense broadleaved woodland, set amongst remaining timber-growing areas of the forest.

This network is now being grazed during the summer months with the Neroche herd of Longhorn cattle, to help establish grassy, heathy vegetation and the associated wildflowers naturally found in these habitats.  These flowers in turn will provide new opportunities for butterflies, moths and other insects, together with a host of other wildlife, to thrive. Grazing open land within a forest is an inexact science, and moving towards creating new wildlife-rich habitats requires a certain amount of experimentation. 

We need information – hard data from the forest to show how the vegetation is developing in the newly opened areas.  To gather that data, we have established a series of permanent plots where the composition and structure of the vegetation can be recorded regularly, over a number of years.  The Neroche Scheme has established a Wildflower Identification and Survey volunteer group to help carry out the monitoring work in the forest. In addition professional surveys have been carried out to record butterfly, wildflower and other wildlife numbers.  This data can be used directly to feed back into management decisions, so that the conservation programme across the forest can gradually be steered towards a beneficial and wildlife-rich future.



Wellington Monument

Wellington Monument is probably the most visited countryside site within the Neroche Project boundary. The Monument, completed around 1854 in tribute to the Duke of Wellington’s military achievements at the Battle of Waterloo, is an iconic landmark of the Blackdown Hills clearly visible for many miles and to drivers on the M5 motorway.

Inside the monument a dark stairwell leads up 235 steps to the summit, where there is standing room for just three people. Peering through the three round windows offers magnificent views over Exmoor, the Quantock Hills and over the Bristol Channel as far as the Welsh mountains.  It used to be possible to pick up a key and a torch from nearby farm, to go up the Monument, but in recent years safety concerns have meant this is no longer possible.

The National Trust owns and manages the Monument and the land around it.  Following concern about the condition of the structure of the Monument, the Neroche Scheme helped to fund a full survey in 2008. The survey identified a need for substantial repairs to masonry to make it safe for the future.  The National Trust is exploring options for funding this work.

Download Wellington Survey Report


Wychwood Lake

Wychwood Lake lies in the Wych Lodge forest area, north of Staple Fitzpaine. It was built originally as a decoy pond by the Portman family in the early twentieth century, but became a coarse fishing lake in latter years.  The fishing rights are now leased by the Taunton Angling Association (TAA).

By 2006 the lake had become heavily silted, and the area of open water had declined.  During 2007 and 2008 the Neroche Scheme financed a major restoration programme at the lake, organised by the Forestry Commission and Forest Civil Engineering on behalf of the TAA. 

The restoration involved draining the lake, excavating part of the silted bed, strengthening the dam, installing a new spillway, and extending the lake margins. A series of new fishing platfoms were installed, including two specially designed disabled platforms. 

This work has been designed to provide an enhanced fishing lake while retaining and safeguarding the special wildlife value of the lake, which is associated with the reedbed and wet woodland areas.

The restoration works and restocking of the lake were completed in early 2009. To find out more visit Taunton Angling Association website.

During the restoration work:                                                                 Repaired dam, spillway, paths and bridge:




The restored lake:                                                                             One of the new disabled fishing platforms:





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