What a year 2021 has been! A complete rollercoaster ride again thanks to COVID! With one main difference – we were able to get out and about again and do in person events in the latter half of the year, which was amazing!

The year started off much as 2020 finished, with an abundance of online events – everything from trees, beavers and soils to potatoes, cows, future visioning and a taste of the nature-based solutions at Killerton – where we were joined by some inspirational people such as Transition’s Rob Hopkins and Dr Freya Garry from The Met Office. Through interactive online Blueprint Working Group meetings, Catchment Visioning Workshops and June & November Forums we were able to co-create a Blueprint Vision for the Culm:

“The River Culm will be celebrated as a lifeline that connects people with each other and with nature. Land across the catchment will be managed to protect and enhance the River, whilst sustaining people’s livelihoods. Throughout the seasons and as the climate changes, the River Culm will have space to flow naturally and safely. The water will run clear, wildlife will flourish, and people will easily access and enjoy all of these benefits.”

The foundation of this was the sharing of our comprehensive Environmental Evidence Review and the enthusiasm people showed for ‘(re)Discovering the Culm’ through all of the online events. Through these events our first community-led initiative, the Culm Himalayan Balsam Action Group (HBAG) was established and has gone from strength to strength thanks to the enthusiasm of the many HBAG volunteers. From a water quality point of view, Culm CSI has also done some amazing work this year with volunteers surveying an amazing 38 sites with a total of 95 surveys. 18 sample points are still available – get in touch if you’d like to become a Culm CSI volunteer (csi@wrt.org.uk). Through the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre over a dozen people also took part in vegetation monitoring training across the Culm, with some wonderful species being spotted! Lots of volunteering activity in 2021 and some videos from some of our long-standing volunteers like Derek Boustred. There will be more volunteering opportunities in 2022 – keep an eye on the website or sign up to the Newsletter at the bottom of this page to receive all the latest info.

Screenshot of activity on an online whiteboard
A group of people in wetlands looking at plants and making notes
Map of Culm water quality sampling points
White-tailed bumble bee on cross-leaved heather

The second half of the year was a flurry of activity outdoors! Our amazingly well-received ‘Festival of the Culm‘ enabled us to get out across the catchment – to different places and at different times – and we were met with warm, welcoming arms (not literally thanks to COVID!) by all the people we talked with at various shows and events from Uffculme to Cullompton and across to Honiton and Tiverton – with Stoke Canon coming in the New Year due to a last minute postponement. Richard Carman’s wonderful illustrations, Clare Viner’s captivating stories and Cat Farnell’s amazing activities formed the backdrop for a thoroughly engaging summer and autumn. On top of that, we were able to get out into schools again and over 300 primary school pupils, teachers and head teachers participated in engaging river-focused sessions both in outdoor classrooms (aka playgrounds) and out on field trips! We also worked with Geography SouthWest to offer some inspiring resource packs for secondary students – all mapped to the National Curriculum.

Clare Viner telling stories to an audience
Riverside tree top school illustration
Slow the flow board game cover with a simple illustration of the river and some landmarks along it.
Connecting the Culm stall at an event

Last but not least, there was a lot of activity going on in and around the Culm river and tributaries channels themselves this year. Ramping up the nature-based solutions work that was paused in 2020 due to COVID, meant that Dan Halford was kept super busy co-designing all sorts of interventions with farmers and landowners and sharing knowledge across the catchment, which even included sniffing soils! One landowner commented:

When I first moved here I thought we should open up the riverbanks and clear the river out. Now I’ve learned about the river and its environment, and see things completely differently……from keeping a percentage of scrub to not letting cattle ruin the banks – I think it’s a great project.

For water quality, a fantastic piece of kit was deployed into the main Culm channel to provide ‘real-time’ data on the health of the river. The ‘Culm sonde‘ is being kept a close eye on and in 2022 there are some exciting other plans for water quality monitoring on the Culm. Alongside this there are lots of other exciting plans for 2022 – watch this space and if you want to join in the action sign up for our newsletter below or get in touch at hello@connectingtheculm.com

Thanks to all those who’ve made the project a massive success in 2021 – Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and enjoy the festive break!

Water meadow with poos and wetland plants, with river and trees in the the background
A scrape under construction. The ground dug out to form a shallow pool.
A piece of river water quality monitoring equipment
Scrape at Killerton