Painting inspires Devon estate transformation

A 400-year-old walking beech tree on the Killerton estate being surveyed by the National Trust (Fi Hailstone/National Trust/PA)
A 400-year-old walking beech tree on the Killerton estate being surveyed by the National Trust (Fi Hailstone/National Trust/PA)

A historic painting is helping to inspire a 50-year vision for the landscape of a Devon estate.

The National Trust is taking inspiration from a 19th Century painting of the Killerton Estate in Devon to expand the habitat and create areas rich in wildlife.

The painting, believed to be by the 11th Baronet Sir Thomas Dyke Acland whose family donated Killerton to the National Trust in 1944, depicts a diverse landscape rich in mature trees and hedgerows with areas of scrub with roaming highland cattle.

Historic watercolour c. 1860-80 by 11th Baronet Sir Thomas Acland which is helping inform vision for boosting nature conservation work at Killerton Credit Fi Hailstone NT

The conservation charity is now launching a 15-month project to reconnect the river with its floodplain to reduce flooding; to restore and plant 4km of new hedgerows, and to plant and establish 18 hectares of new woodland, five hectares of agroforestry, 40 hectares of wood pasture and planting 200 trees in hedgerows.

Paul Hawkins, National Trust project manager, said: “Nurturing what we have has got to be the first step of a green recovery.

“Our plans involve thinking about what we’ll need the landscape to deliver in 50 years, and how we can make that happen.

Nature is incredibly powerful but sometimes we need to give it a helping hand.

“We want to ensure the estate now evolves to capture more carbon and to help the land, wildlife and livestock cope with more extreme weather events.

“Currently just under 10% of the Killerton Estate is priority habitat – and the combination of work we are doing to protect and enhance these areas together with changes in management should boost nature on the estate and hopefully demonstrate to others what can be achieved.

Spring orchard, Elbury, Killerton

“The estate as it is now may look green and beautiful but the reality is that so much of the wildlife that was on the estate when the picture was painted, has been lost.

“Species of plants and habitats are unable to adapt to the impacts of climate change which could lead to extinctions and impact the functioning of the ecosystems humans depend on.

“We are aiming to expand, improve and join up our nature spaces to help wildlife thrive, so it’s easier for species to move across an otherwise fragmented landscape in response to climate change and to build resilience.

“Where we are establishing and planting more trees the soils will be better protected and there will be more permanent cover and habitat for a wide range of wildlife, from dormice to woodpeckers.

The River Culm will be reconnected with its foodplain as part of the project (Paul Hawkins/National Trust/PA)

“Where we are planting new hedgerows and changing their management we hope to attract more wildlife such as butterflies and bats that will use these as corridors to join up habitats across the estate.

“In the future this work should help us give visitors even more opportunities to get close to wildlife.”

The project has received a £750,000 grant from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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