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Case Study: Blackdown Hills Natural Futures

Title: Blackdown Hills Natural Futures

Category: Landscapes for Nature (Wildlife)
AONB: Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership

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Blackdown Hills Natural Futures: Year 1 of a three-year, Heritage Lottery Fund and other funders supported project. The project aims to discover more about the wildlife of the Blackdown Hills by supporting local people to set up community wildlife projects, helping young people / students gain new skills in ecological surveys and nature conservation, and encouraging everyone to enjoy and understand the wildlife of the AONB.

What was done

Training Programme:   The project offers three voluntary traineeships each year to people hoping to develop a career in ecology or nature conservation. During the six-month placements, trainees help survey wildlife sites within the AONB and receive in-depth training in botanical identification as well as wider ecological survey techniques. All survey data is provided to landowners and the two local environmental record centres to increase our knowledge and understanding of the special sites, species and habitats of the Blackdown Hills.

Community Nature Projects:   Blackdown Hills Natural Futures is supporting communities throughout the Blackdown Hills to develop and deliver their own Community Nature Projects. The projects are focusing on habitat creation and improving management on areas of publicly accessible land, such as village greens, playing fields, school grounds and churchyards to benefit wildlife and raise local awareness.

Community Nature Projects across the AONB:  The support provided has included prioritising activities, planning community events, arranging specialist expert advice and assisting with funding applications. The projects are wide ranging but share common themes including pond restoration, creation of flower-rich grassland and hedgerow management. Free rural skills training is also being offered through the project including scything and hedge-laying.

Filming and Schools work:  Over the summer, local experts were filmed and interviewed about some of the special places, wildlife and heritage of the Blackdown Hills AONB. The interviews have been edited into short films that will be available on the Blackdown Hills Natural Futures website in 2016. These clips will also be used as part of the ‘Naturally Blackdowns’ mobile web pages.   Children from the local primary school were involved in some of the films and interviewed the Devon County Archaeologist and an amphibian and reptile specialist as part of a day of activities at a local heritage site. Alongside learning about local wildlife, geology, film making and interview techniques, the children took part in reptile searches and pond dipping.


  • 3 trainees secured full-time employment in the ecological and conservation sector. 53 wildlife sites in the AONB surveyed
  • 300 dormouse nest-boxes put up in 6 new National Dormouse Monitoring Programme sites
  • 40+ volunteers recruited and involved in the long-term monitoring of the boxes20 short film clips on the wildlife, cultural heritage and landscape of the Blackdown Hills completed
  • 37 primary school children involved in the filming
  • 12 Community Nature Projects being supported through the project
  • 1 hedge-laying workshop organised
  • 1 scything course organised
  • 1 website developed
  • 13 site visits, ID events or talks
  • 1 Family Wildlife Discovery day organised.


  • Employing the right project staff team
  • Enthusiasm during the Year 1 evaluation – telephone interviews typical phrases used were: ‘approachable’, ‘quick to respond’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘proactive’.
  • Staff were praised for their drive, enthusiasm, motivations, knowledge and organisational skills.

Further information                  

Linda Bennett, Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership,, 01823 680681


Quote from project manager:

“In the past people would barely visit the site, perhaps two or three people. Now after a year we have 10 or 20 people regularly using this site. It’s definitely used much more”.

Key search words  wildlife; community; project; surveys; trainees; schools; film;

Photo credits: Blackdown Hills AONB