Okehampton United Charities has leased seven acres of unplanted grassland to Network Rail for 35 years under a new agreement that will help protect wildlife and increase biodiversity in Devon.
New habitats for rare hazel dormice will be created in the two fields that have been leased by the charity on the outskirts of Okehampton, next to the Dartmoor line, which reopened to passengers for the first time in almost 50 years in 2021 and runs to Exeter. Native trees and vegetation will also be planted to create a biodiverse habitat.
The site is one of six in the area being carefully managed to promote the dormice, a legally-protected species.
At the end of the lease, the charity will resume custody of the land to continue their work to protect the countryside around Okehampton.
Hazel, hawthorn and oak trees, brambles, and honeysuckle are among the trees and plants that will be introduced on the land. New hedgerows will also be planted and non-native species reduced to provide nests and food sources for the dormice and connect the land to other habitats in the area. Nest boxes and tubes will also be installed to provide artificial habitats.
The work has been agreed with Natural England and follows the reopening of the Okehampton line in 2021 that required some dormice habitats to be moved.
Network Rail senior programme manager Ewen Morrison said: “We don’t just build new tracks and signals, we look after the environment around the railway.
“We’re very grateful to Okehampton United Charities that we have secured this deal to allow us to promote hazel dormice and increase biodiversity in the area.
“Together with the reopening of the railway, our work will benefit Okehampton and Devon for decades to come.”
Daryll Chapman, chair of the trustees of Okehampton United Charities added: “Trustees are delighted to be working with Network Rail to facilitate the creation of a new wildlife habitat within the Ockment valley. By improving and then maintaining this habitat for the next 35 years, Okehampton United Charities and Network Rail aim to improve the wide-ranging biodiversity of the valley, providing a secure environment for hazel dormice and many other local species.”
Image credit: Network Rail