In 1968 the Axe was awash from bank to bank which may have stimulated councillors of Seaton Urban District and Axminster Rural District Councils to commission a feasibility study for a large marina occupying the whole of the marsh area to the west of the Axe, almost up to the Stafford Brook. The Axmouth Study (1971) was allegedly not very accurate and the project would have been very costly but as Margaret Parkinson recorded in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association ‘one wholly constructive result of the opposition was the formation of the Axe Vale and District Conservation Society dedicated to the protection of wildlife and the environment in their area’.
The original constitution listed its objects as:
stimulation of public interest in the ‘area of benefit’: the Axe Vale and district.
promotion of high standards of planning and architecture in the area of benefit.
securing the representation, protection, development and improvement of features of beauty or of historic or public interest in the area of benefit.
From the start planning issues large and small were the main concern of the committee with possible routes for the Axminster By-pass and the location of the new Axmouth bridge causing much discussion and detailed consultation. Another early issue was whether to replace the very run down Axminster Station or to carry out expensive restoration: the Society was among those who fought successfully for the survival of the modified 1859 building.
In 1989 Geoff Jones, now one of our Vice Presidents, became Rural Affairs Officer for the District Council; one sign of their changing approach to the environment which was also reflected in the creation of a Local Nature Reserve at Trinity Hill (Common) with our committee member David Capon as warden. 1989 also saw a major threat to the area as South West Water proposed a large new reservoir. Holyford Woods was soon rejected as a potential site but Mounthill and Great Trill near Musbury were possibles before a site above Higher Bruckland in Combpyne became the front runner. Long and detailed arguments, meetings, letters and ecological investigations followed until in 1993 the National Rivers Authority refused a license for abstraction from the Axe. All the publicity had been good for membership but at that time only three events, apart from the informative Newsletter, were available for the members: the AGM, a bird watching tram trip and the Barnes Coffee Morning.
The Borrow Pit, leased from South West Water, had been established as a Reserve effectively managed by the Society. Norman Barns, President and long term warden in the Undercliffs, led walks in the National Nature Reserve.
A CHANGING EMPHASIS
By 1996 a change of emphasis is suggested by the committee’s proposed objectives and linked action plans. In effect these were:
- the objectives of a wide membership through increasing publicity and providing a programme of activities.
- the target of co-operation with local and national organisations to maintain and improve the environment of the Axe and surrounding valleys with emphasis on local distinctiveness. Some of this was to be achieved through increased involvement with the Environment Agency and its catchment plan for the rivers Axe and Lim.
- the innovation of a work force available to help with practical tasks and community projects.
- influencing appropriate persons to encourage traditional practices in farms and woodland. One plan was to work in conjunction with the District Council and their tree wardens to plant and care for trees.
- the Society should offer all possible help to other organisations such as The British Trust for Ornithology and Butterfly Conservation in monitoring populations as animal population levels and biodiversity were seen as indicators of the health of the environment.
- reporting the activities of the Society through the Newsletter reflecting an informed, active and helpful organisation with clear objectives.
The plants, animals and ecosystems of the area seem to have become the priority but architecture and planning remained important parts of the Society’s activities.
THE NEW PROGRAMME OF ACTIVITIES
In April 1996 Ian Waite led the first Society walk, appropriately enough to see the bluebells in Holyford Woods. The first work party involved planting trees from the East Devon free tree scheme in the garden of the Old Rectory in Combpyne and early talks were by Norman Barns (on the Axe and Otter), Donald Campbell (on Snowdonia, National Parks and Conservation) and David Capon (on aspects of Greece).
By 1999 – 2000 the programme had built up to 25 walks, 9 work parties and 8 other events and links with organisations like Devon Wildlife Trust, English Nature, Environment Agency and Devon Heritage Coast Team had developed but little was happening in the AONB, despite the efforts of Geoff Jones and Nick Butler and the Dorset and East Devon World Heritage coast was not designated until 2001.
Since then much has happened in the conservation world in East Devon with an active AONB partnership, new local nature reserves, a bevy of enthusiastic bird watchers and a host of activities reported in our Newsletters and on the website which also lists a number of other websites to which you may wish to refer.