The Culm Grassland Natural Area

Culm grassland is a rare and unique habitat only found in Devon and Cornwall. It supports many of the most threatened species, such as the marsh fritillary, narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth and double line moth.

There has been a significant decline in Culm grassland, with almost 50% of the grassland being lost between 1984 and 1991, and over 90% lost since 1900. Today, only 4,000 hectares of Culm grassland remain and the species that rely on this now rare habitat have suffered similar declines.

The Culm Measures cover a large area of some 3,500 square kilometres, and includes a long coastline from Boscastle to Barnstaple, inland south to Launceston and the northern limit of Dartmoor, east to the edge of Exeter and in the north through South Molton to just inside the Somerset border.

The need for action…

The purple moor grass rush pastures (known locally as Culm grasslands) are a national Priority Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitat. The remaining resource is in small fragmented pockets that are under significant threat from abandonment and succession to scrub.

The larger areas of Culm are protected under national and international law (as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Areas for Conservation (SAC), with most of the reminder designated locally as County Wildlife Sites.

Low level grazing is a key part of Culm grassland management and the Working Wetlands project aims to influence the socio-economic factors that underpin traditional agriculture.
As well as enhancing biodiversity, the project is also aiming to show the financial benefits and other services provided by these ecosystems.

The Working Wetlands Project target, to bring 2,040 hectares of Culm grassland into favourable management by 2013, has already been exceeded and work is continuing to maximise delivery.

Delivery of interventions

Working Wetlands advisors act as the brokers and knowledge providers alongside other specialist partners (eg. Natural England, Environment Agency, Exeter University). The project started in 2008, and costs in the region of £0.5m per annum to run. Funding for this service is provided by South West Water, Tubney Charitable Trust, the Environment Agency, Devon County Council and various other funders.

The project has a team of advisors, who work with farmers to give general advice on wildlife and water management across the whole farm. The team offer a full Environmental Stewardship application service, as well as support with implementation of capital works and aftercare. Since 2008, the Working wetlands farm advisors have facilitated Agri-environment schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) worth £5.7m in the project area.

The project is also able to deliver practical assistance with machinery, grazing animals and training, and there is a budget available for small capital projects with land-owners signing up to a 5 year management plan.

Monitoring & Outcomes

The Working Wetlands Project is underpinned by good science, and detailed botanical and other ecological surveys are undertaken to target work and monitor outcomes.

This includes County Wildlife Site condition assessments, Butterfly monitoring transects, botanical surveys and soil samples of potential restoration sites, and resurveys after restoration. A large proportion of the priority areas are now covered by much more comprehensive Parish Biodiversity Audits which detail land-use in every field of the parish.

Perhaps most importantly, Devon Wildlife Trust, Exeter University and the Environment Agency are currently working on a 2 year study to understand the value of Culm grassland to the hydrology and quality of watercourses downstream. This could be very important if it can be shown that wetlands could save South West Water money in providing clean drinking water to our homes and businesses.

The initial results are very encouraging and these have been presented in These two factsheets that explain about the work on hydrology and water and soil quality. Find out more at the DWT’s ‘Hydrology of the Culm’ webpage – HERE.


Find out more about Working Wetlands on the Devon Wildlife Trust Website

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