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The Haldon Forest Park Project

Before the Forest Park

PEARL BORDERED FRITILLARY (Clossiana euphrosyne).Although it is so close to Exeter, and has easy access from the A38, Haldon Forest was mainly used by local people to walk their dogs, and by bird of prey enthusiasts. Very much seen as a working forest, many people weren’t even sure if the woods were open to the public.

Despite this uncertainty we had established waymarked trails, including the Butterfly Walk and the Beginner’s Way, which has also become locally known as Jamie’s Walk, or the Magic Walk. The Beginner’s Way was conceived, designed and built by artist and sculptor Jamie McCullough in the early 1980’s. Although deliberately unpublicised it drew around 500,000 visitors during its seven year lifespan, and many people still visit what remains of the Way today.

The popular Bird of Prey Viewpoint was created in the 1990s. This clearing on the edge of the ridge provides fantastic views over the Teign Valley, and the birds of prey that ride the thermals above. 

How we came up with the idea

In 2004 we, as Peninsula Forest District (covering Devon, Cornwall, and West Somerset), produced our Strategic Plan for 2004-2014, stating our aims and how we intended to achieve them. Two of these aims were to increase public use, enjoyment, and awareness of our woods, and to improve accessibility for all. The size and location of Haldon made it an obvious choice to develop a major recreation site, and achieve these aims.

At around the same time we were approached about hosting the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World. This project would be able to seek its own funding from Arts bodies, and proposed converting one of our disused buildings into a project space, and using the forest as a basis for much of the art work to be generated.

Getting the funding

We found a possible funding source in Sport England’s ‘Active England’ grant scheme, and developed proposals around themes of healthy living and exercise, and accessibility for all, in a woodland setting.

While our initial bid was developed a consultation report was also commissioned to explore Haldon’s potential for development. The recommendations from this report took into account not only Haldon’s physical characteristics, but it’s SSSI status, and the possibility of successful local partnerships. We built on this with further research, and gained significant support from government and non-government organisations. Then we made our case, and submitted our Stage 1 Bid in March 2004.

This first stage was approved, and we had just a few months to refine our proposals and submit a Stage 2 Bid in November 2004. To do this we held workshops with partners contributing to the project, and recruited Project Manager Ian Lynch to oversee the development and delivery of the project.

Sport England finally approved our bid and granted us £800,000 to build the trails and toilet block you now see on the main site. The Sensory Trail features at Mamhead were funded by a grant of £18,000 from the landfill tax credit scheme managed by Ugbrook Environmental Ltd, and released through Viridor Waste Management with the assistance of Teignbridge District Council.

Building it

Once we gained final approval from Sport England we had just 12 months to build our Forest Park – a tight timescale by anyone’s standards!

Where appropriate we tried to use as many local businesses as possible. Construction jobs were contracted to Spyglass Construction Ltd (Torquay), Wilsign Developments (Exeter), Rooftech (Surrey, covering the South), SR Harper Construction (Exeter), AJ Orme (Exeter), and GG Locke Ltd (Honiton). Some of the play equipment was made by artist Nick Meech, who is based in Bridport.

The musical instruments were sourced from SIK-Holz in Germany. The Forestry Commission had recently installed some of their pieces at Rosliston in the West Midlands, and they were recommended by our Landscape Architect, as we needed hard-wearing wooden play features, that were a little unusual.

The launch

Dawlish Coasters Running Club at Haldon Forest Park. Peninsula FDWe officially opened the park on Saturday 15th April 2006, and although we planned a reasonably low-key affair it was estimated around 1,500 people attended!The day was all about introducing people to our new facilities, and encouraging them to join in activities they don’t usually do.

What happenened next?

Since then we've never stopped looking for ways to continue to develop the Park. 

A second short phase of development during 2007/08 saw the opening of Forest Cycle Hire, a Go Ape! course, more parking spaces, improvements to some of our buildings, and a ‘self-guided’ trail. 

A third phase of development during 2008/09 was funded by £98,000 from Devon Renaissance and £282,000 from Devon County Council. With this we  developed a much needed and long-awaited permanent cafe, and made significant changes to our technical cycle trail. Find out more about this project.

The phase four stage of development during 2010 saw the construction of a new blue graded cycle trail which has been invested in by the Rural Development Programme for England as part of the 1 South West project. The funding was also used to develop a cycle skills area and pump track.

Sustaining and maintaining all these developments relies on income generated by our car park. Many thanks to all those people who continue to support our facilities by using the car park, or purchasing a Discovery Pass.

If you have a suggestion for a new feature contact us.

In July 2007 we were also nominated for Best Sports Project in the National Lottery Awards, and made it through to the final ten.

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.