Environmental Protection

Landscape protection and the National Trust

Fortunately for Wembury, interwar development pressures were counterbalanced by important moves towards landscape protection. These were in part statutory. The landmark Town and Country Planning Act (1947), and subsequent planning measures, greatly strengthened the authorities’ ability to resist speculative housing. And in 1960 Wembury was included in the new South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It is the National Trust, however, that has played the longest-running role in protecting key areas. Today it owns:

  • Wembury Point, rescued from possible private development in 2006 following the closure of the naval gunnery school, HMS Cambridge;
  • most of Wembury Beach and the fields around the church;
  • the cliffs and the lower section of the Yealm estuary;
  • and a substantial belt of farmland and woods stretching northwards from the cliffs as far as Hollacombe.

How was this achieved? As in many parts of the country, Trust involvement first came about through local initiative. It received Wembury cliffs as a gift in 1938 when their owner, Mrs Ida Sebag-Montefiore, feared that the impending sale of her estate would be a developers’ charter. And in 1939 – with house building imminent – the beach and church fields were saved and donated following fundraising by a small local committee.

More recently, it has been the Trust that has taken the initiative, for example purchasing farmland from its own resources, and making the acquisition of Wembury Point a flagship project celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Neptune Campaign to protect the coast. But local support, often organised byWembury Amenity Society, has still played its part. Above all, two footpaths taking walkers all the way from Hollacombe to the cliffs were the Trust’s response to an Amenity Society initiative. For the first time this departure opened up to the general public the landscapes of eastern Wembury, with their fine views of the Yealm estuary and Dartmoor to the north.

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