The Culm and its catchment support a diverse array of wildlife habitats. It’s not just the river corridor, with its aquatic and riparian ecology; the catchment upstream of this central artery and its tributaries hosts a range of connected ecosystems. Around the river’s headwaters in the Blackdown Hills are important tracts of heathland, mire, wet grasslands and meadows, smaller pockets of wet woodland and wetland to, in the lower reaches towards the Exe confluence, broad floodplain grazing marshes, rush pastures and pockets of riverside fen as well as a scatter of traditional orchards and ancient woodlands (including the culturally and biologically important parklands at Killerton).

There are eight nationally designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and more than 110 County Wildlife Sites in the catchment – places that are recognised as being particularly valuable to the nature of Devon and Somerset. Across the whole area a network of hedgerows and hedge banks of various types links the many elements of the mosaic of habitats and agricultural land-uses. These are often rich in flowers and fruit and are as vital to the environmental functioning of the landscape as the smaller watercourses which feed the river.

Over 1,000 species of flowering plant and 1200 species of insect have been recorded in the headwaters area alone. Notable species in the catchment as a whole range from the obscure, like the rare cranefly, rhabdomastix laeta, which breeds in sparsely vegetated sand and silt around the banks of the river, to more familiar animals like the European Otter, which is present on all the rivers. The nationally important heaths and mires of the Culm headwaters are particularly special and home to many species of conservation importance including a number of uncommon plants like Dyer’s greenweed, broad-leaved cotton grass, Few-flowered spike-rush and oblong-leaved Sundew.

River Culm catchment map showing priority habitats

The map shows the location of priority habitats in the Culm catchment (from the Culm Environmental Evidence Review, WRT 2020)

The Devon Biodiversity Records Centre is carrying out detailed surveys to improve our knowledge of the Culm Valley’s wildlife. The Centre is also looking for volunteer surveyors to help. Volunteers will receive training and other support. Find out more through our Get Involved pages.