Meeth Quarry nature reserve is home for a diverse range of wildlife and a wonderful place for people to explore. It is easily reached on foot or by bicycle from the Tarka Trail. The Trail actually cuts through the centre of the nature reserve just one mile in from the southern end at Meeth.
Unlike any other Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Meeth Quarry’s industrial past has dramatically shaped its present. For almost a century it was a series of busy clay quarries and mines. The legacy of this industry has created a particularly diverse landscape and today, two enormous lakes and piles of clay spoil dominate its features. Elsewhere there are ponds, woodlands, bogs and grasslands.
These days you will find many dragonfly and damselfly in the nature reserve, countless butterflies including wood white, grayling and green hairstreak, skylarks, geese and ducks, including the tufted duck and shoveler. Look out also for Brown Hare in the sparse open areas of the reserve.
When much of the Trail is relatively quiet, the Taw Torridge Estuary is at its busiest. A trip along the trail from Barnstaple to Braunton or to Fremington offers the chance to enjoy some of the thousands of waders and wildfowl that make it their winter home. Birds including Golden Plover, Curlew, Redshank and maybe even Spoonbill can be seen from the Trail as they feed on the rich food sources of snail and shrimp that can be found in the mud and sand at low tide.
In spring, the Trail bursts into life. Verges and woodland edges are transformed as plants such as primrose, wild daffodil and wood anemone flower, taking advantage of the light before the trees come into full leaf. As the season progresses resident bird numbers are boosted by migrants as nesting gets underway. Particularly good areas for spring flowers can be found at Fremington Cuttings and the coppice woodlands between Torrington and Watergate.
The busiest time of the year for people and wildlife sees the Trail and its bordering habitats alive with plants and animals. Butterflies, moths dragonflies and other insects are at their most abundant, providing food for birds and bats. Saltmarsh plants such as sea lavender bring colour to the marshes of the estuary, while the woodlands south of Bideford are at their most lush providing welcome shade on hot days.
As the days begin to shorten the Trail settles into a different rhythm. Berries including sloes, hawthorn and rosehips provide essential food for animals such as the elusive dormouse, which need to build up fat reserves to get through the coming winter. With the cooler weather the woodlands at places such as Petrockstowe become a great place to discover the amazing variety of fungi that thrive there. The first heavy rains to swell the river Torridge encourage migratory salmon to attempt to jump the weirs at Beam.