Walking along the banks of the River Culm this summer was beautiful. Tall stands of purple loosestrife, carpets of water forget-me-not and reed canary-grass swaying and rustling in the breeze. But these outings weren’t purely for pleasure. Devon Biodiversity Records Centre is working with Connecting the Culm on surveying the vegetation along the banks of the river, from the headwaters in the Blackdown Hills, to where it meets the River Exe. And we’re not doing it alone. We have run three training sessions this summer for volunteers, along the length of the river. These volunteers are helping us to survey more of the Culm catchment.
We’re looking for some special plants, called axiophytes. Axiophytes are collections of plants that together can tell us something about the habitats in which they are found. In this case, we drew up a list of axiophyte species for rivers and wetlands in the Culm catchment. We narrowed this down from 140 species to a more manageable shortlist of 20. The more of these species an area has, the better the condition it is in. These plants provide stability for the banks, food for insects and cover for all manner of birds and amphibians.
We ran our first training session in June on the Killerton estate. In the rain we spotted branched bur-reed and gipsywort. Near Uffculme in July we saw showy stands of yellow loosestrife and marsh woundwort shining under the sun. Our final training session in August was a bit different. In the headwaters, at DWT Clayhidon Turbary reserve, we found wetland heath and mire species including two types of sundew, common cottongrass and bog asphodel (all on the long list).
To do a survey is very simple and can be completed on your usual riverside walking route. We want to know if you have seen any of these axiophyte species along the river, or in the headwaters. Send us a list of the species you have seen, along with an indication of whether they are common or rare and the date you saw them. We will also need a location. A grid reference is best. We’re hoping to be able to build up a picture of the vegetation along the catchment. You don’t need to be an expert botanist, as every record counts.
Thank you to everyone who took party in the training. We’re now at the end of the season for many of the plant species, but if you’d like to get involved you can see the photos of the species we found in our albums online and get in touch for the axiophyte lists. We look forward to hearing from you. Jess (Community Ecologist, DBRC).