THE growth of wildlife on farmland and the natural culm of North Devon is an amazing achievement according to a world-recognised scientist.
Leading ecologist Professor Sir John Lawton named the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA) in a new report about the gains made by the 12 sites in Britain's improvement area programme in its first year.
The local NIA is based on the Torridge river catchment which, its supporters said, is rich in wildlife but facing threats from climate change and land management practice which often leads to abandonment.
Professor Lawton said: "One of the things that struck me forcefully when I have been visiting [NIAs] is the huge amount of enthusiasm, collaboration and vision in every consortium... I'm amazed by how much has been achieved already, as this report makes abundantly clear.
"I always knew that making more space for nature in the NIAs would take time... But looking at what has been achieved in this first year, I think we will all be pleasantly surprised by where we are by 2015."
The Northern Devon NIA is one of 12 nationally important wildlife schemes which had to compete for funding by Defra before launching 18 months ago.
Others include Wild Purbeck in Dorset, the Marlborough Downs, The Meres and Mosses of the Marches and the Humberhead Levels.
Their aims are to create better places for wildlife – and people – with recreation opportunities, flood protection, cleaner water and carbon storage and to unite local communities, including landowners and business.
The new report said the NIAs have managed to raise £5.50 from various companies and public bodies for each £1 invested by government so far.
The report singles out the way the Northern Devon NIA has organised events to share expertise about grassland management.
Lisa Schneidau, Project Manager of the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area, said: "We are delighted with the progress made in the Northern Devon NIA in year one of our project.
"We've built on the previous successes of Devon Wildlife Trust's Working Wetlands project and widened our provision of specialist farm advice in the Torridge catchment to wildlife habitats, diffuse pollution and resource protection, and woodland creation and management (through our partners Trees and Land).
"In year one we have worked with farmers and landowners to restore over 600 hectares of wet grassland, restore 22km of riverbank and plant 50 hectares of new broad-leaved woodland.
"We are lucky in North Devon to have one of only two NIAs in the South West.
"Devon Wildlife Trust, the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and our other 14 partners will be working hard to build on our successes and do even more for wildlife and land managers alike in the coming years.
"We would like to thank all those people who have contributed so far to a fantastic project."
If you would like to find out more about how the Northern Devon NIA team can help with land management or environmental work in Torridge, go to the website: www.north erndevonnia.org
Next week we'll see how half a million pounds is helping the pioneering wetland work on North Devon's rare culm.