Back in March we wrote about wildlife spotted in the Culm catchment and that we’d soon be able to share plans with you on how to get involved, COVID-safely, in one of the many citizen science and volunteering opportunities available. We’re aiming to get as many people as possible actively engaged in enhancing the health of the river, the environment and the people in Culm communities – that means getting out and taking action!

The fantastic news is that time has finally come! We’re really excited that plans for activities are now being made and some activities are beginning to happen again. In this latest news update we bring you the ‘hot off the press’ information that we currently have – please check back regularly for updates and in case things have to change last minute (if you sign up for anything you’ll automatically be kept informed of any changes by the relevant organisers).

First off, Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) Culm Citizen Science Investigates (CSI) volunteers are now able to get back out and undertake their water quality sampling. If you’ve not already joined you can read more and sign up here. We ran a Culm CSI training session in Hemyock on Mon 12th July and are planning another in Cullompton at some point – date to be confirmed but register your interest at hello@connectingtheculm.com and we’ll keep you posted. We’re particularly looking for volunteers on the Fulford, Ken, Weaver, Madford and Halbeton tributaries, so if you’re near those and keen to help monitor water quality, please do get in touch!

Secondly, Devon Biodiversity Records Centre (DBRC) have produced an exciting programme of training to support Connecting the Culm’s biodiversity surveys and wildlife data collection & monitoring volunteers. The programme kicked off with an online introductory event on 14th June at 14:30 – Vegetation Monitoring in the Culm Catchment and you can watch the recording here. This was followed by three outdoor monitoring training events for volunteers – one in June (Killerton), one in July (Selgar’s Mill, Uffculme) and one in August (Clayhidon Turbary Reserve) – which focused on vegetation types and indicator species in the lower reaches (riparian vegetation), central section and Culm headwaters (wet heath vegetation), respectively. Read about & see some lovely photos of some of the findings here.

Find out more about how you can survey for DBRC here or please email DBRC Community Ecologist Jess Smallcombe for more info: jsmallcombe@devonwildlifetrust.org

Thirdly, the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding National Beauty (BHAONB) has dates available for a range of species-specific training. More information here – and contact verity.jones@devon.gov.uk if you’d like to know more about all the species-specific training sessions or to register for sessions.

Finally, the community-led Culm Himalayan Balsam Action Group (HBAG) is going from strength to strength. The group held an online ‘meet & greet with Q&A’ on 27th May 2021 so those volunteers signed up to date could introduce themselves to each other and exchange skills and experience between the more and less experienced members of the group. The group has undertaken surveys and coordinated a plan of action to address this invasive species in multiple locations along the Culm (from Churchstanton to Stoke Canon!). If you’d like to sign up to join the group please email hello@connectingtheculm.com with your name and where you live/where you’d be happy to tackle the balsam and we’ll put you in touch with the groups’ coordinators. An outdoor toolbox training session titled Tackling Himalayan Balsam in the Culm Valley took place on Friday 18th June 10.30am – 3pm, with HBAG members meeting at the Blackdown Healthy Living Centre in Hemyock. As part of the Connecting the Culm project, the free outdoor training and information session for all ages (risk assessed and COVID-safe) showed participants how to identify and remove Himalayan Balsam as part of a wider project to make the river better for wildlife and people and included making a start on tackling the balsam! Following the session surveying and mapping of the catchment is ramping up to tackle the spread of Himalayan Balsam.

One last future opportunity to mention focuses on the nature-based solutions the Connecting the Culm project is beginning to implement in the catchment’s priority areas. NBS projects have unfortunately been delayed due to COVID but if you would be interested in volunteering to help with some of the projects and work please keep an eye out for updates – we hope to be able to provide more information about this in the coming months; in the meantime please register your interest by emailing hello@connectingtheculm.com

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