Law Enforcers of tomorrow helping to protect an East Devon Conservation Area
The battle to keep off-road drivers and fly tippers from spoiling one of Devon's most important rural habitats has taken a step forward with the forging of closer links between Clinton Devon Estates and the police.
This week Student Police Officer Chris Warfield has been shadowing East Devon Pebblebed Heaths' warden Bungy Williams as part of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary's Community Engagement Scheme. As part of their initial training, Student Officers work alongside staff and clients within key organisations and community groups on two one-week placements, gaining first-hand knowledge and essential community perspective that will greatly assist them in their future careers. Bungy hopes the experience will help Chris appreciate the importance of the 3000 acre site which is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
"This is a great opportunity to spend time with somene who will be patrolling this area in future and to explain to them what we are doing and the problems that we have with such large areas to protect," says Bungy.
"Illegal campers, off-road drivers and people dumping rubbish are a real threat to this very special environment. It's not just the damage to the habitat either, vehicles using the heaths illegally could easily cause an accident and just recently we had rubbish with asbestos in it dumped here - it's not good for the flora, the fauna or people who want to enjoy the area responsibly."
Student Police Officer Chris Warfield, has welcomed the chance to learn more about the Heaths. Chris will be based in Exmouth when his training is complete. As well as spending time on the heaths, Chris's week long attachment to Clinton Devon Estates also involves sessions on forestry, pest control and a day with the Land Agent.
According to Chris, "It's a brilliant opportunity to learn more about Clinton Devon Estates which plays such a major part in the area. Even though I was brought up in Sidmouth, I hadn't realised how much impact the estates have on life in East Devon.
"This induction is giving me a valuable insight into what goes on here and will be of great help in understanding key local issues when I get out on patrol."
Meanwhile, Clinton Devon Estates is also asking the public to be its ‘eyes and ears' in a growing battle with the motorists using the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths for off-road driving.
John Wilding, General Manager of Forestry and Environmental Economy wants people using the Heaths for legitimate leisure pursuits to collect the registration numbers of any vehicles using the land illegally and report them to the Estates office or the local police.
He says that the biggest danger caused by illegal off-roading is to the public; "We're naturally worried about the damage this is causing to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but our biggest concern is that a car, motorbike or quad bike could collide with someone walking, cycling or riding.
"Vehicles are getting onto the Common because barriers are regularly broken and we do have to keep access points open for horses.
"The Royal Marines have permission to use the land for training and our management team at Clinton Devon Estates sometime need to take 4X4's onto the land - but that doesn't mean it's a free for all," says John Wilding.
"We take a very serious view of this kind of illegal activity and we are working closely with the police and with local people to make sure it stops," he adds.
Illegal motorists face being charged under the Road Traffic Act, which can mean a fixed penalty fine for a first offence to a maximum fine of £300 for persistent offenders who are sent to magistrates court. Those who damage the Site of Special Scientific Interest also face charges of Wildlife Crime which can result in a prison sentence and fines of many thousands of pounds.
If anyone witnesses vehicles illegally using the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, they are asked to contact Clinton Devon Estates wardens on 07976 062712 or 07976 062717.