Thursday, 26 June 2014

Devon Wildlife Trust Placements, June 2014

by Daniel Hosking, Jordan Holmes and Hayley Partridge

The three of us have just started a six-month placement with Devon Wildlife Trust. Each year, three students from the BSc Conservation Biology degree are given the opportunity to get valuable experience with the Trust, after an interview process. We started work at the start of June with the North Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA) team at the Cookworthy Office near Holsworthy. We plan to write regular updates here to give an impression of the work we have been doing.

Marsh Fritillary
(Photo: Hayley Partridge)
Covering 72,000 hectares, the NIA aims to work with local landowners and the community to improve the quality of the River Torridge and restore important habitats, one of which is culm grassland. North Devon holds 35% of the UK’s remaining culm, which is a mixture of wet heath, rush pasture, mire and swamp. Many rare species are found here, including wavy St John’s wort and whorled caraway, and the nationally scarce marsh fritillary butterfly. This species has suffered a population decline of 60% since 1990, which is one of the reasons we will be monitoring this species over the course of the placement.

After an introduction to everyone at Devon Wildlife Trust and days out in the field learning to identify over 40 plant species found on culm grassland, we were soon carrying out marsh fritillary surveys. On each site, we followed the route taken by last year’s students, while noting the species found and marking on maps where and when we saw a marsh fritillary butterfly. These places varied from small fields on farms to larger moorland areas. Many butterflies were spotted, including over 70 individuals at one site. However, some places saw decreases in population numbers with no marsh fritillary seen. The data from these surveys will be added to several years of records, which will be reported to larger organisations. We will also write a report looking at the trends seen at local sites.

In addition to the marsh fritillary butterfly, we saw many other interesting species, including common lizards, grass snakes, cinnabar moths and a red legged partridge, as well as lots of dragonflies and damselflies.

Common Lizard
(Photo: Hayley Partridge)

Libellula quadrimaculata dragonfly
(Photo: Hayley Partridge,
ID: Rich Billington)

Other activities we have taken part in this month included surveying green hay meadows, looking for evidence of otters and bats around the River Torridge (near the Tarka trail), and writing species lists for an area of farmland in South Devon. This week, we have had an introduction to riverfly surveying. These surveys involve kick sampling in the river to see if certain species (mayfly, stonefly or caddis fly larvae) are found, which will then give an indication into the quality of the river. Many locals take part in this survey once a month, because if these species are not found, there are knock-on effects for anglers, as well as otters, kingfishers and herons.

Riverfly survey site on River Torrington.
(Photo: Daniel Hosking)

Calopteryx splendens dragonfly
on River Torrington
(Photo: Daniel Hosking,
ID: Rich Billington)

Dragonfly larva, River Torrington
(Photo: Hayley Partridge)

On the 24 June we visited the Meeth Nature Reserve. Meeth is a disused clay quarry. After 2004, when production ended after 100 years, the quarry flooded, resulting in two massive lakes. These two lakes have large numbers of dragonfly and damselflies. Clay spoil is another dominating feature along with smaller ponds found around the site. the purpose of our initial visit was to show us around the site. The largest lake may change over the years, as cracks have been found around the edge, as the decision to allow water to escape or to fill them is yet to be made. The smaller ponds are also interesting as one has very recently drained, and it was found that there was a drainage pipe open which must have unblocked recently. The drainage has resulted in the death of the majority of reed mace in the pond. The pond which drained is the overflow of a higher pond, where the reed mace is still alive. There is also a small stream known as Little Mere which we looked at, however, we found very few organisms in there due to the low flow and sediment.

We also had a quick glance at Ash Moor which was going to be a foot and mouth burial site but was never used. It is now a large area of Culm Grassland in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme.

(Photo: Hayley Partridge)
Ash Moor culm grassland.
(Photo: Daniel Hosking).
(Photo: Hayley Partridge)

We have really enjoyed our first month with the NIA, and have already learned so much about the project and the species found on culm grassland. If you would like to find out more about the NIA, visit

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