The idea of the Bude Canal was conceived in 1774. Its main use would be to transport Bude’s lime-rich sea sand inland to manure acidic soils. Other cargoes such as coal, culm, slate, timber, iron, and bricks could also be carried and farm produce exported.
That year, an Act of Parliament proposed a 95 mile waterway running from Bude Haven, via Calstock on the Tamar, to the English Channel. However, this scheme proved too ambitious and it was dropped.
Then in 1817, a new survey was commissioned. This proposed a 19ft wide canal, consisting of a 2 mile stretch navigable by barge from Bude Haven to Helebridge; plus another 40 miles of narrow tub-boat canal, where wheeled ‘tub-boats’ would be pulled by horses, then winched up a system of ‘incline planes’ to get over the hills. Also, the building of a sea lock, a breakwater and moving the mouth of the River Neet. Costs were estimated at £90,000.
This scheme, with branches to Launceston, Holsworthy and Alfardisworthy reservoir (Lower Tamar Lake) was eventually agreed upon. The “Bude Harbour & Canal Co” was formed and work began in July 1819.
Four years later, the first boats arrived at Holsworthy amid great celebrations. By 1825, a total of 35.5 miles of canal had been built, with wharfs at Virworthy (below Tamar Lakes), Blagdonmoor (Holsworthy) and Druxton (Launceston). Final costs were £120,000.
Although never a commercial success, the Canal was a boon to inland communities, but when the railway reached Bude in 1898, canal trade declined drastically. The waterway closed in 1901 and most sections were sold back to the landowners.
Dunsdon in particular, and Vealand Nature Reserves are important for a type of pasture known locally as Culm Grassland. Rarer than rainforest, Culm is a mix of boggy heath and waterlogged meadow overlying the slates and shales of the Culm Measures of Devon and Cornwall. The Devon Wildlife Trust owns both sites and by careful management, hopes to re-instate lost areas of Culm Grassland. This will be achieved with farmers cutting some fields or hay, swaling (winter burning) and using traditional breeds of cattle such as the North Devon Ruby Reds. As the cattle graze, they carry the wildflower seed on their hooves, helping it to spread naturally.
Culm’s diverse wildlife habitat encourages and supports a vast range of native flora and fauna, including many species which have become dangerously scarce as the amount of Culm dwindles. Culm typically has purple moor grass, Liverworts, mosses, flowers such as heath spotted orchids, marsh ragwort, meadow thistle, ragged robin and scarce plants like wavy St John’s Wort.
Wet areas attract amphibians and many insects, including a nationally important area population of marsh fritillary at Dunsdon. Foxes, roe deer and badgers roam the fields and dormice live in the hedges. Otters have been seen on the river. Many birds breed here including tree pipits, reed buntings and barn owls. Dunsdon also has a small heronry.