19-November-2012 by Aileen Shackell
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, 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”.
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. ?In September this year the scheme was finally completed.
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.
We’ll leave the last words to the Holland family: three generations enjoying the autumn sunshine, sailing toy boats on the River Sid. Emily is pictured here, with her mum. 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.
Lucky Emily; a happy childhood memory which will probably stay with her forever.