By Isabelle Charmantier
The University of Exeter Streatham Campus can boast to be one of the most beautiful of the country, set as it is within an arboretum, ponds and gardens. Twenty five sculptures are situated in this unique background, both in the open and in university buildings. They include sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Paul Mount, amongst other well-known and lesser known artists and students. It is possible to take a self-guided walk through the campus and the sculpture trail.
The arboretum has its origins in the 1860s, when the grounds surrounding Reed (then called Streatham) Hall was laid out by the Veicht family, famous for running plant nurseries in Europe in the 19th century. Their business was split between two places, Chelsea and Exeter, which became the main bases for this family of plant hunters, collectors and nurserymen. They employed plant hunters such as Lobb brothers and E.H. Wilson to collect and plant an ambitious arboretum on the Streatham estate.
The University of Exeter traces its origins to schools and colleges established in the middle of the 19th century, but it is only in 1955 that it was officially founded. Gradually, through a period of fifty years, the University transferred its city centre sites to the Streatham campus, which had remained until then a farm and an estate.
The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a major re-landscaping of the main campus, but always with the aim of maintaining the diversity and exotic plants which had initially been brought in by the Veichtes. In the 1980s and 1990s, the botanical collection was extended.
Today, a great effort is made in terms of biodiversity throughout the campus grounds. Birds and bat boxes are being installed, and a ‘bioblitz’, or quick census of species, was conducted in 2010 by staff and students in the area between the Laver Building and the Business School.
Species such as a kingfisher, a snipe and bumblebees were spotted, an indication of the potential rich biodiversity of the campus, and an incitement to further develop plans to enhance and protect this natural and man-made environment. In order to do so, staff working on the grounds and gardens cater for wildlife by leaving log piles, creating wild flower meadows and leaving areas of grass uncut to allow animals to move around safely.
The University grounds are open to staff, students and visitors all year around and can be visited freely. Fixed date seasonal tours are available, which last an hour and a half. If the dates are not suitable, bespoke tours can also be arranged for a minimum of 10 guests. To find out more and to make a booking please consult www.exeter.ac.uk/eventexeter/garden-tours.php, email [email protected] or phone 01392 215566.
Virtual tours are also available online and leaflets on request.