Historic Ordnance Survey maps show the area currently occupied by the woodland as an open field from 1889 to at least 1933 (Environs, 2008). The first record of the woodland appears in 1952. It is probable that the woodland started to establish in the aftermath of the WWI, when there would have been a shortage of labour to manage the grounds and prevent the northward encroachment of the woodland south of Withycombe Brook.
The woodland unit is located on a gently sloping hillside with a slight southerly aspect (approximate altitude range: 25-30 m). The slope descends steeply (by 1-2 m) at the southern boundary of the wood, into the narrow stream channel of Withycombe Brook. The surrounding landscape predominantly comprises gently rolling lowland hills with the Exe estuary located just over 2 km to the southwest. Land to the north of the woodland is now largely developed.
The woodland floor is generally quite damp, implying that drainage is impeded. A small stream (Withycombe Brook) runs westward along the southern boundary of area.
The site is characterised by red soils derived from underlying red sandstones and mudstones.
Species known to be present in the woodland include: badger (there is a several-hole sett present in the northwest corner of the wood and badger trails throughout) as well as a number of common bird species; blackbird, blackcap, chaffinch, chiffchaff, dunnock, robin Erithacus, wood pigeon and wren.
The site lies within the Devon Redlands Natural Area (NA). This is a landscape dominated by mixed agricultural land, with a scattering of villages and towns. Notable habitats within the NA include remnant lowland heathland, ancient woodland, hedgerows, rivers, canals, lush fens and species-rich grasslands. The area is notable for its species of nature conservation importance, which include dormouse, primrose and a number of threatened bird species.
The Wild East Devon Rangers proactively manage the reserve, regularly taking on tasks such as maintaining the active badger sett within the woodland, providing suitable habitat and habitat features to encourage a variety of bat species to forage and roost in and around the woodland, and enhancing the habitats for avifauna, invertebrates and other wildlife. As well as practical management, Wild East Devon are also actively improving the value of the site as a recreational and educational resource for the local community and visitors, whilst not compromising the wildlife integrity of the site.
Hillcrest has a costed and agreed 15 year management plan, which includes carrying out practical site management (habitat management, health and safety considerations, access improvements, boundary maintenance), working with the local community to establish volunteer groups and voluntary site wardens, and running a series of events on these sites aimed at the local community to raise awareness of the sites and to educate local people about them.
The Community Nature Reserve is very close to both Exmouth railway and bus stations and is easily accessed from any bus or train service to the town. The nearest postcode is EX8 4DX
Residential Parking along and around St John's Road, Exmouth
Best time to visit
Autumn and particularly winter are great seasons to go to Hillcrest. Grab your walking boots, bundle up and get walking. A wander around the woods during winter is a dreamlike experience, unlike any other. Take in the bare, frost-covered branches and enjoy the quiet stillness that only comes when there’s a chill in the air. Springtime at the Reserve is not to be missed either, see the trees blossom and wildlife coming to life.
All Wild East Devon nature reserves, including Hillcrest, are open free of charge to the public at all times.
Hillcrest, like all woodlands, has its challenges for accessibility. The paths are better than most however, and the Reserve is easily navigatable by foot.
Watch out for branches and roots across the paths which may be muddy after rain, so stout boots or wellies are recommended.
Dogs are welcome on this nature reserve, but please keep them under close control and clean up after them. Appropriate behaviour is encouraged, particularly at the crucial springtime for wildlife.