Skip to main content

Reserves - Rackenford and Knowstone Moor

Rackenford and Knowstone Moor nature reserve comprises both species-rich and species-poor heathland communities, rush-pasture, bog and flush communities, scattered patches of scrub and bracken and some small areas of fringing woodland.  Associated with this diverse and complicated mosaic of vegetation communities is a correspondingly rich fauna, with bird communities and certain species of invertebrate being particularly significant.

The enormous expanse of open moor is mostly registered common land.  Locally owned cattle and wild deer can be found grazing here. The Culm vegetation communities support a number of rare and uncommon species of plant and animal. A number of key habitats and species present at Rackenford & Knowstone Moors have been identified in the national, regional and county biodiversity action plans. This is a unique and threatened habitat with a mixture of wet grassland, heath, bog and scrub. The vegetation over much of the reserve is dominated by purple moor-grass with cross-leaved heath, ling, and western gorse as sub-dominants. Other typical species include Devil's-bit scabious, bog asphodel, heath spotted-orchid, lousewort, meadow thistle, and sneezewort. Within damper areas rush species become abundant together with other species frequently associated with marshy communities, such as wild angelica, marsh violet, marsh bedstraw, and marsh thistle.

A number of typical lowland birds breed on the site, including curlew and grasshopper warbler, whinchat and the site also forms an important wintering ground for such species as snipe, jack snipe, woodcock and hen harrier.  No nationally rare or nationally scarce plants are present, but a number of species occur that are rare within the county.  These include slender spike rush, many stalked spike rush, pale butterwort and white beaked sedge.
A number of rare invertebrates, particularly butterflies and moths, have been recorded.  These include the dingy mocha moth and a number of nationally notable species such as marsh fritillary butterfly, narrow-bordered bee hawkmoth and double line moth.

Looking after the reserve
The management of this nature reserve will continue to prioritise the Culm grassland habitat and therefore to be based on a traditional regime of light summer cattle grazing combined with rotational winter burning. Both scrub and bracken are desirable elements of the Culm grassland mosaic but need to controlled.  There is an ongoing programme to control bracken on Knowstone Moor and scrub on Rackenford Moor to ensure that levels are appropriate to the overall wildlife interest of the site.

The Little Comfort Farm field system is managed as part of the Common and the cattle have freedom to wonder in and out of the old fields. Due to this the banks have becoming eroded by cattle and red deer and the hedgerow trees are becoming over mature. Restoring some of the hedges back into good condition is now part of the work to be carried out on this site,  this will provide good habitat for species such as dormouse, evidence for which has been found on the reserve.

The wider landscape
Rackenford and Knowstone Moors together with the adjacent Hares Down represent the largest remaining block of Culm grassland in Devon.  Although surrounded by fields of improved agricultural land, about 20 remaining Culm grassland areas occur within a five mile radius of the reserve. These include Witheridge Moor SSSI, East Anstey Common and Exmoor which lies to the north. Meshaw Moor, another DWT reserve is also about 5 miles away with a small population of marsh fritillary butterflies. Two areas of semi-natural ancient woodland lie within a two-mile radius of the site.

The original Know-stone was once called the Cnoutston (c-nootstone).  It was used as a site-line from high ground to high ground like a standing stone stood on the criss-cross medieval tracks between Dartmoor and Exmoor. It was believed to have stood in place for over 2000 years before being for the link road construction in 1988.  To visit the original Knowstone in its new location take the Rose Ash turning off the link road, here there is an enclosure with a stone circle and new plaque.

The local parishes celebrated 2000 years of Christianity by placing the huge millennium stone at the Knowsrone Crossroads.  

DWT took over the management of Rackenford and Knowstone Moor in 1989.  The Haresdown and Knowstone Moors Management Association plan the grazing of the common land. The site has a long history of management by man.  In addition to grazing, swaling or burning has been regularly used to remove excess dead grass build-up on the common land.  

The hydrology of parts of the site has probably been altered by the building of the A361 North Devon Link Road through the area in 1988. Areas of semi-improved pasture occur in the fields at Little Comfort Farm and on Bowden Moor, and areas of re-seeded grassland occur on Rackenford Moor where material excavated during construction of the Link Road was dumped.

The flora of the area has been recorded since at least 1939 (Flora of Devon), with a major update in 1984 (Atlas of the Devon Flora), and the avifauna for the site is well documented (DBWPS records and the Tetrad Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Devon 1988).  The NCC (now Natural England) Invertebrate Site Register includes several records from Hares Down and Knowstone.    

To the south-west, or right as you look out over Knowstone Inner Moor there is a patch of very tall European gorse beneath which lies an ancient saucer barrow.  This is the funeral monument of Early Bronze Age man dating between 1800 and 1200BC.  The barrow looks like a small hillock about 10m across. Its construction has survived well and is of great archaeological importance as there are only 60 saucer barrows known nationally, most of which are in Wessex.  
Share This