New wildlife haven in Exeter could become 'green treasure'

Northbrook Park in 2020 Credit: Exeter City Council

A former golf course could be transformed into a haven for wildlife, becoming a 'green treasure' for Exeter.

A consultation earlier this year explored how best to enhance the former Northbrook Approach course off Topsham Road, after the council’s executive backed it just ahead of the first lockdown in 2020.

After the golf course closed in 2019 the land was due to be sold, probably for housing, but the council made a U-turn shortly afterwards – deciding to keep it as a protected green open space for the public.

The consultation asked for views on a ‘wild arboretum’ – a space for wildlife habitats, trees and wildflower meadows – along with what people wanted to see and how to enhance the facility. Ninety-six per cent of the 755 responses supported an arboretum.

Furthermore, 92 per cent said they would go to enjoy walks, views and the tranquillity. Protecting the green space and wildlife corridor came out as the top priority for future use.

Presenting the findings to the council’s executive, Peter Burgess from Devon Wildlife Trust, a charity which looks after several green spaces in the city, said: “Something we’ve recognised is how critical these green spaces have been for everyone during this period.

“Lots of people have found parks for the first time; they’ve explored them and they’re places for quiet relaxation – to rewind, to recharge.”

Mr Burgess says there aren’t many cities with the quality of green space of Exeter.

As well as the arboretum, the proposal includes strengthening the ‘wildlife corridor’ linking Northbrook with neighbouring Ludwell Valley and Riverside parks, a ‘visitor hub’, wildflower meadows with newly planted trees, a community orchard and a project to allow the park’s stream to “re-naturalise.”

Councillor Phil Bialyk (Labour, Exwick) said: “Right at the start of this administration, I met with the people in that Countess Weir area. I assured them we weren’t going to build on it, I assured people who were asking me, we were going to consult properly on it and I believe we’ve done that.”

He added the vision was “this group delivering on our promise on what we do. I’m sorry it took two-and-a-half years – it takes time but we got there in the end, so I am proud of what we’ve done on this situation.”

Councillor Laura Wright (Labour, St Thomas) said the plan was “absolutely fabulous” and suggest people could buy trees for family and friends to raise funds.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess told her “this sort of location would be perfect” for such crowdfunding initiatives.

While a car park was rated the lowest ‘access’ priority with only six per cent ranking it as very important, Cllr Wright added that she hoped a couple of disabled parking spaces could be included, “so that people aren’t disadvantaged if they aren’t able to walk here, because it would be such a shame if they weren’t able to benefit from it”.

Asked about linking up the site with the nearby Ludwell Valley Park, Mr Burgess said the connections between the two were “quite strong already” but “improvements can be made,” such as pelican crossings.

Councillor Rachel Sutton (Labour, Exwick) welcomed the plan, describing it as an “exciting opportunity” and added: “It has been a source of wondering delight to actually discover quite how much wildlife is down there and hearing woodpeckers literally yards from Topsham Road.”

Councillor Duncan Wood (Labour, Pinhoe) said: “It’s going to be a green treasure to the city, looking after our health, helping towards our reaching 2030 [net zero carbon target], but also a lovely place to go.”

Members of the executive agreed to note the consultation and approved in principle the next steps, which involve potential designs and detailed costings.

Credit: Ollie Heptinstall