Clennon Gorge

Clennon Gorge

Clennon Gorge is a 60 acre wooded valley that is home to many plants and animals. The nature reserve was identified as a County Wildlife Site by Devon Wildlife Trust due to its areas of limestone grassland and ancient woodland.

The limestone grassland is important because the limestone bedrock changes the qualities of the thin soils above, which in turn affects the type of plants that can grow there. This community of plants is relatively rare so it is important to preserve areas of limestone grassland.

The grassland's main ally over the years has been the humble rabbit, whose grazing has prevented it from disappearing under a canopy of trees. In the last ten years we have been felling trees and shrubs at the edges to expand the area of open grassland. In 2009 we received a grant from SITA UK to fence the grassland, allowing us to graze it with livestock. The grazing is a good way of managing the habitat in a more natural way.

The majority of Clennon Gorge is ancient semi-natural woodland; this means that it has been continuously wooded since at least 1600 AD. In that time, humans have heavily managed the woodlands. One form of management was coppicing. Coppicing is the process by which a tree is cut down and then subsequently produces multiple stems from the stump which can be cut again in 7 to 10 years’ time.

Humans have also left their mark on the reserve in the form of limestone quarrying. Although this ceased back in the 19th century, the quarries and kilns remain. The quarrying required a plentiful supply of firewood from the coppicing to fuel the lime kilns that converted the limestone into lime.

Clennon Gorge is a fantastic refuge for wildlife and visitors to the Zoo can experience part of it on the Nature Trail. The Nature Trail is a wonderfully peaceful 10 minute walk that loops around a section of coppiced woodland and skirts a stream and pond. Coppicing has been reinstated along the Nature Trail, using the traditional method of cutting small subplots in rotation. The creation of this patchwork habitat has increased the number of associated flora and fauna.