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Devon is the only county in England to have two separated coastlines; the South West Coast Path runs along the entire length of both, around 65% of which is named as Heritage Coast. Inland, the Dartmoor National Park lies wholly in Devon, and the Exmoor National Park lies in both Devon and Somerset. Apart from these areas of high moorland the county has attractive rolling rural scenery, and villages with thatched cob cottages. All these features make Devon a popular holiday destination. The variety of habitats means that there is a wide range of wildlife. A popular challenge among birders is to find over 100 species in the county in a day. The county's wildlife is protected by the Devon Wildlife Trust, a charity which looks after 40 nature reserves.
The landscape of the south consists of rolling hills dotted with small towns, such as Dartmouth, Salcombe, Totnes amongst others. The towns of Torquay and Paignton are the principal seaside resorts on the south coast. The north of the county is very rural with few major towns except Barnstaple, Great Torrington, Bideford and Ilfracombe. East Devon has the first seaside resort to be developed in the county, Exmouth and the more upmarket Georgian town of Sidmouth, headquarters of the East Devon District Council. Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
The Great Red cliff of Foreland PointDevon gave its name to a geological era: the Devonian era, so named by Adam Sedgwick because the distinctive Old Red Sandstone of Exmoor was studied by geologists here. Devon's other major rock system is the carboniferous sandstone which stretches from Bideford to Bude in Cornwall, and contributes to a gentler, greener, more rounded landscape.
Devon's Exmoor coast has the highest cliffs in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangman, a 1043 ft (318 m) "hog-backed" hill with an 820 ft (250 m) cliff-face, located near Combe Martin Bay. Its sister cliff is the 716 ft (218 m) Little Hangman, which marks the edge of Exmoor.
One of the features of the North Devon coast is that Bideford Bay and the Hartland Point peninsula are both west-facing, Atlantic facing coastlines; meaning that a combination of an off-shore (east) wind and an Atlantic swell produce excellent surf. The beaches of Bideford Bay (Woolacombe, Saunton, Westward Ho! and Croyde), along with North Cornwall, and the coast of South Wales, are the main centres of surfing in Britain.
Rising temperatures have led to Devon becoming the first place in modern Britain to commercially cultivate olives.
The administrative centre of Devon is the city of Exeter. The largest city in Devon Plymouth, and the conurbation of Torbay (including Torquay, Paignton and Brixham) are now unitary authorities separate from the remainder of Devon which is administered by Devon County Council for the purposes of local government.
Devon County Council, is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, consists of 33 Liberal Democrats, 23 Conservatives, four Labour and two independent councillors. At a national level, Devon has five Conservative MPs, three Liberal Democrat MPs, and three Labour MPs.
In December 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government referred Exeter City Council's bid to become a Unitary Council to the Boundary Committee. This was because they felt the application did not meet all their strict criteria. The Boundary Committee will report back to the Government by the end of year. The Boundary Committee will be asked look at the feasibility of a unitary Exeter in the context of examining options for unitary arrangements in the wider Devon county area.
The main settlements in Devon are the cities of Plymouth, a historic port now administratively independent, Exeter, the county town, and Torbay, the county's tourist centre. Devon's coast is lined with tourist resorts, many of which grew rapidly with the arrival of the railways in the 19th century. Examples include Dawlish, Exmouth and Sidmouth on the south coast, and Ilfracombe and Lynmouth on the north. The Torbay conurbation of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham on the south coast is perhaps the largest and most popular of these resorts, and is now administratively independent of the county. Rural market towns in the county include Axminster, Barnstaple, Bideford, Honiton, Newton Abbot, Okehampton, Tavistock and Tiverton.
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