Charles Sinclair writes for the Herald on behalf of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group.

Sidmouth Herald: Charles SinclairCharles Sinclair (Image: Charles Sinclair)

It was yet another beautiful sunny morning in March when I was led through the Byes by Steve Jones, to be shown the wealth of improvements made to the area by The Friends Of The Byes.

As there was so much to see, two hours only allowed us to cover a short stretch.

We are very lucky to have a park running through the length of the town and to have a volunteer group looking after this space with such expertise and vision is something of which to be very proud.

When planning for such an area there plenty of interested parties to take into account before decisions are made. It is quite a responsibility getting it right.

What felt good about what The Friends of the Byes were doing is that they recognised the diversity of people and heavy use the Byes receive before they take any proposal forward.

One of the first areas we came across was the pebble beach created where the river deposited stones on its slower flowing side.

This is a popular spot for closer exploration of the river, so a secondary footpath following the water’s edge at this point has been established, creating a secretive alley leading to the river, through a willow coppice, down to the water’s edge.

A small blue sign stood nearby and next to it a pile of logs covered in grass.

This log mound is one of the recent additions to the park.

The inclusion of habitats for wildlife is a sign of Steve’s sensitive commitment to the area. They are designed to give shelter to hedgehogs, frequent visitors to the gardens about, but probably put off by the dogs, so few seem to use the Byes.

However, the log piles also help slow worms, toads, mice and other small creatures, giving a definite boost to biodiversity. Steve apologies for the sorry state of the blue sign, ‘I make these up out of old chipboard, and hand write the information.

We used to use professionally produced signs, but these got stolen, no one wants my rough hand-made ones!’

The grass areas are very important to the park allowing for a wealth of recreational activities. Some of these areas are kept tightly mown, others though are left long so that some of the plant species in them can flower, providing pollen and nectar to bees and other important insects.

The meadow areas are particularly important for this; in one square meter The Friends of the Byes have counted 500 flower heads, in the tightly mown grass areas there were none.

The meadows have their own beauty and we are just entering their most exciting season.

Up into the community orchard, and the huge number of fruit trees grown are remarkable. This space is set aside as an area for people to forage their own food.

I don’t suppose there are many of us who expected the Byes to provide for people to forage! Fruits of many varieties are there for you to help yourself in the late summer and autumn.

The trees are all labelled so that you can judge the merits of each variety. Plums, pears, apples, nectarines and even a nut walk are there to temp you. And at this time of year the blossom is gorgeous.

One of my favourite initiatives The Friends of the Byes have undertaken this year is to plant fifty Alder and Common Buckthorn trees.

These are wonderful native shrubs or small trees that are loved by Brimstone butterflies. Brimstones are the quite large all yellow butterfly seen often early in the year.

The caterpillars feed only on buckthorn leaves. Brimstone butterflies are not uncommon in Sidmouth, but with the provision of another 50 Buckthorn trees they might one day fly in profusion around the Byes.

The Friends of The Byes always welcome more volunteers, if you are interested, they meet in the Byes ever Saturday morning at 10am.