Friday, 19 July 2013

The Byes in March...

This is an article which originally appeared in Devon Life, put together by Aileen Shackell, the project manager for the Byes Environmental Education project - the creative stage of increasing biodiversity of the area - which was to become the Friends of the Byes...

"A hidden treasure"

March 2013

Occupying a tranquil spot behind Sidmouth town centre, the Byes is a haven for wildlife and families alike, and recent regeneration has seen its popularity grow.

words by Aileen Shackell

“Granny, the tree spoke to me!…….” said  Mia Choules (7), as she got ready to go home after a happy time kicking through leaves carpeting the ground in The Byes. Childhood memories are made of moments such as these and no doubt Mia and her brother Finn (2 ) will look back with affection at the many times they spent with their granny in one of Sidmouth’s loveliest open spaces.

If you're not familiar with the site, The Byes is a tranquil riverside park between Sidford and Sidmouth town centre. Many visitors to Sidmouth don't realise this hidden treasure exists, just ten minutes walk from the beach. All sorts of wildlife can be seen there, from kingfishers and dippers, to deer, and even otters and water voles. There are few formal play facilities, instead, the natural environment provides a wealth of opportunities for young folk to develop their imagination (like Mia and her talking trees) as well as learn practical skills such as river-dipping and tree-climbing.

However although a popular and well-used space, The Byes were beginning to suffer from the reduction in resources being experienced by councils across the country. Despite the site increasing in size too (Sid Meadow was brought into The Byes in 2009) there had been no corresponding increase in maintenance budgets. Michael Horsnell, co-ordinator of ‘Friends of The Byes’, explained: “We knew that the council were doing their best with limited resources but we could see that The Byes needed extra help, and we decided to focus on improving the site for wildlife, especially bees and butterflies, and also make it an even nicer place to visit”.

So during spring and summer 2012 a range of improvements were carried out, with funding secured from the Groundwork ‘Community Spaces’ Programme and with ‘Friends of The Byes’ over-seeing the implementation.  The group has now taken on aspects of the long-term maintenance, working closely with East Devon District Council which has supported the project from the outset.

What was involved?

Perhaps the most popular items have been the simplest: new handmade seats in local oak, to encourage people to linger and enjoy the views, and interpretation boards at entrances, encouraging exploration of un-familiar routes – and a colourful flowering meadow, which became the talk of Sidmouth.

Two tree-planting projects were also implemented: a new ‘Jubilee Wood’, with funding from the Woodland Trust, and a Community Orchard. Sixty fruit trees will soon provide free fruit for local residents and visitors who will be able to pick their own apple or plum, straight from the tree.

A visitor’s view

The Byes has something to offer for everyone, but it’s especially popular with families. Chatting with visitors, a common theme emerged: getting out into the natural environment is just so much more fun than visiting a ‘play area’ where creative, imaginative play is rarely an option. Who needs a play area when they have the richness and variety of The Byes to explore?

Ian and Jan Walker live next to The Byes and they often bring their children there. “We used to live in Colyton, it’s lovely there but it was such a faff to go anywhere with the kids, loading up bikes in the car was a real nuisance! Now we just set off on foot, two minutes later we’re in The Byes, the kids can cycle for miles if they want”. And with perfect timing, Edward (8) set off at high speed into the distance on his scooter, scattering leaves as he went.

 ‘The great thing about The Byes is that it feels safe, and the children can go off and do their own thing. There are lots of little hiding places and they feel as though they’re in their own world - but we know exactly where they are – just around the corner. And they absolutely loved all the new flowers in the meadow this summer’. (Jan)

Judy Payne often takes grandchildren Mia (5) and Finn (2) to The Byes when they come to stay for the weekend. “I’ve lived in Sidmouth for a long time – almost 30 years – and we’ve always used The Byes; first of all as a dog-walker; then bringing my own children – now the grandchildren. I like the free entertainment you get here: nothing to spend money on and endless amusement! Who’d have thought kicking through leaves could be so much fun?”

We’ll leave the last words to the Holland family: three generations enjoying the autumn sunshine, sailing toy boats on the River Sid. Granddad Chris has carefully made a set of beautiful tiny wooden boats (‘complete with keel’ chipped in his wife, Denise) for little Emily to sail. At only 2 ½ she stands in the river, water lapping over her spotty wellies, with mum Becky close by, helping her to launch the boats.
The look of intense concentration on Emily’s face as she watched  them make their perilous way through  the water is replaced each time  with a broad smile as granddad Chris returns them to her for another go.

As Becky said ‘I think this game could go on for a while……we might just take a break for lunch and come back later!

Somehow, I think Emily will be back in The Byes…….again, and again.

For more information on The Byes project contact landscape architect Aileen Shackell via her website at www.asa-landscape.com or on 01308 424 077.The Friends of The Byes can be contacted at fotbyes@gmail.com

The Byes are close to the main bus route via Sidbury into Sidmouth (numbers 52A and 52B) and there are dedicated cycle paths throughout the site. Car parking is freely available in the town centre, as well as on surrounding residential streets. 

Aileen Shackell runs her own landscape design practice from west Dorset. As well as having specialist expertise in designing for Play and for Health and Well-being, the practice also prepares Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments for those making planning applications in rural areas. 
Landscape design, playground design, garden design, outdoor space design | Aileen Shackell Associates Limited

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