Going underground...the East Devon Way
A scheme to underground overhead power cables and enhance the landscape of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has been completed as part of a joint initiative between Western Power Distribution, East Devon AONB Partnership, Clinton Devon Estates and the RSPB.
The RSPB reserve at Aylesbeare Common was selected as the first site for undergrounding in the AONB because of its iconic status and landscape significance and as part of the East Devon Way and Pebblebed Heaths. The internationally important site covers some 213 hectares and its rare lowland heath habitat is managed by the RSPB under lease from Clinton Devon Estates for birds such as the Dartford Warbler, Nightjar, Linnet and Yellow Hammer as well as some 38 different butterflies!
The Pebblebed Heaths create a unique landform in East Devon, highly susceptible to visual intrusion. Much lowland heath in England has formed on soft sands, making low-lying, undulating landscapes, often surrounded by higher, treed ground that forms the horizon. But the more resistant pebble beds form the characteristic hills of East Devon, capped by the low heathland vegetation. This means that powerlines make a great visual impact where they cross these relatively bare summits, silhouetted against the skyline and unmitigated by trees or other natural features of a similar height.
In total 12 poles and 14 spans were removed as part of the scheme, amounting to almost 2000m of lines. Christian Hjelm, Consents and Wayleaves Manager for Western Power Distribution (WPD) adds: "This scheme is one of a number of iconic sites WPD is supporting under the current Ofgem Scheme in the region.
Our comprehensive customer consultation shows that the bodies in our area of operation support the targeting of iconic sites - but also that these customers do not want to pay too much extra for this, so there has to be a careful balance. Initial discussions led to the creation of a regional steering group consisting of representatives from various National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) who have suggested sites for consideration.
Working under the umbrella of the South West Protected Landscape Forum has been helpful – enabling us to spend time working up plans and costings from the limited funds available for high priority iconic schemes collectively agreed by representatives – rather than us having to consider lots of individually submitted requests.”
On behalf the East Devon AONB Partnership, John Wilding MBE commented “This was a wonderful Partnership project that Western Power Distribution funding has made possible. It has improved the views across a very scenic site and we are grateful to all the partners, in particular Toby Taylor from RSPB who worked closely with Clinton Devon Estates, the AONB team, Devon County Council Historic Environment Service and Western Power Distribution to further enhance the special qualities of this outstanding landscape”.