The event, held in and around the Dartmoor town of Chagford on 6 July, was organised by Devon Local Nature Partnership with the aims 'inspire, challenge, action'.
Talks and workshops ranged from hedgerow surveying, to coastline ecosystems and bat monitoring. Many local groups gave inspiring talks on the subject of verges, meadows, churchyards and hedgerows and described how small but targeted changes in management practice can bring about significant benefits for biodiversity - for example, cutting hedgerows and verges less frequently.
With these initiatives comes the need for effective communication: it is vital to explain these kinds of changes in policy so people understand the huge environmental benefits of a bit of ‘untidyness’. Churchyards, for example, are often over-manicured to the detriment of ecosystems, but it is important to gain the support of the local community, including church wardens, before any 're-wilding' happens.
I managed to attend just two of the dozen or so workshops available - 'Surveying Hedges' and 'Wildlife Records (Support for Community Projects)'. Rob Wolton, chair of the Devon Hedge Group and Megan Gimber of the People's Trust for Endangered Species, gave an excellent insight into practical survey methods for hedges. The invaluable work of the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre (DBRC) was presented by Marcus Windle. DBRC is one of a national network of Local Environmental Records Centres in the UK and has been providing information about wildlife for over 15 years.
Back to the talks, and species-specific presentations covered Greater Horseshoe bats, butterflies - and Bewick swans. One of the headline talks described a project to map the migration of Bewick swans across the Russian tundra with the aim of finding out why numbers returning to the UK appear be declining. Sacha Dench, conservationist at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), talked about her marathon flight by paramotor to follow the swans' journey and monitor their progress. Sadly, illegal hunting in Russia appears to be on the rise, but it is feared the swans' migration paths are also being affected by the rapidly changing climate of the Arctic.
The day for me was hugely worthwhile - I'll definitely be attending more workshops if it is held next year. And the lovely organic & locally produced food and drink was an added bonus.
Main takeaway? Be aware of the global issues but take local action to make a difference. The climate emergency and biodiversity crisis we are facing are linked so the potential mitigation measures can only benefit both.