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Working Wetlands

The Working Wetlands project is now in its seventh year. New funding from a variety of sources has enabled work to expand into new areas and further develop our Culm grassland restoration work in the Culm National Character Area.


What is Culm grassland?

Culm grasslands are the wet tussocky grassland found on the poorly drained, clay soils of the Culm. Elsewhere in the country, similar habitats are referred to as Rhos Pasture, and there are other strongholds in SW Wales and the west coasts of Scotland and Ireland where the climatic and soil conditions are similar.

They are an internationally important habitat, and home to some of the nation’s most threatened wildlife, such as the marsh fritillary butterfly and the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth.

Marsh Fritillary by M Symes

Devi'ls-bit Scabious by M Symes

Like all grasslands, they need to be managed to keep them clear of scrub and woodland. Here in the Culm, a history of light summer grazing by cattle and burning has maintained the open conditions required for the rare wildflowers, insects and birds which make them such spectacular habitats.

Common Blu by M Symes


Find out more about Culm grassland and its associated species here.

Some of the very best examples of Culm grassland are now owned and managed as DWT Nature Reserves, and are well worth a visit. On the A361 between Tiverton and Barnstaple lies the Rackenford and Knowstone Moor reserve, and over in the west is the spectacular Dunsdon National Nature Reserve which is also under the careful management of DWT.

Meadow Thistle by Michael Symes

Walk and talk at Devon Wildlife Trust's Dunsdon Nature Reserve

The Hydrology of Culm

In addition to its wildlife value, Culm grassland also serves a number of other very important functions in the landscape.  One of these is the storage of water, and its gradual release back into the headwater streams over a longer period of time. A landscape rich in Culm has healthier, cleaner rivers, with less frequent floods and more constant flows during droughts. In a similar way, the water running off a Culm-rich landscape is generally cleaner, with fewer pollutants like phosphates and pesticides that come from more intensively farmed land.

DWT is working with the University of Exeter and the Environment Agency on a detailed hydrology and water quality study on these impacts, the results so far can be seen in the two fact sheets below.



Culm under threat

Dipwell ground water monitoring

kingfisher at halsdon by Rob C

There have been huge losses of Culm grassland in the last hundred years, with only 10% of the habitats present in 1900 still surviving today.  Over half was lost during the late 1980s and early 1990s as farmers were subsidised to plough up grasslands to plant crops.  Tree planting and neglect were other key factors. Even today these habitats are still at risk of being drained and improved as it becomes ever more difficult to make traditional farming profitable on these heavy clay soils. 

Those areas of Culm that remain are often small and isolated and this is detrimental to many species. Isolated populations of butterflies are known to do very badly due to inbreeding - this is one of the greatest threats to marsh fritillary butterflies. Species will be particularly vulnerable to extinction as the climate changes and they need to migrate across the landscape to survive.

A view over Culm grassland in winter

Curlew by Peter Beasley

What is Devon Wildlife Trust doing to help?

Through the Working Wetlands project, Devon Wildlife Trust is helping to reverse Culm decline by encouraging and supporting landowners to carry out targeted habitat management, creation and restoration projects.

Working closely with our sister project, the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA), we have built close working relationships with over 400 landowners since 2008. Working with the farming community in this way we can achieve better connected areas of Culm grassland and ensure that the wildlife species associated with Culm can move more freely across the landscape.

RSPB training day at DWT's Dunsdon reserveWorking Wetlands work with farmers

How can Working Wetlands help you?

The Working Wetlands Advisory team provides farmers with targeted whole farm, farming and wildlife advice. We are able to provide advice free of charge to farmers and landowners in our priority areas and can advise on a wide range of farming and wildlife management practices as well as water management issues. Working Wetlands aims to support land owners through:
•    Whole farm advice – covering wildlife and water management, and integrating them into the management of the whole farm
•    Advice on Agri-environment schemes and other grants that are available – we sometimes have a budget for small capital projects ourselves.
•    Specialist advice on restoration and re-creation of grassland habitats
•    Practical support with our machinery ring that contains various items of farm machinery
•    Grazing Links initiative helps with finding graziers and support with grazing issues

Click on the icon to the right to see an information sheet that provides more detailed information on the areas where we work and the staff involved.

Simon swaling at DWT's West Moor reserveKubota tractor working at Stowford Moor

Working Wetlands Practical Advice Pack

The aim of this pack is to support farmers and landowners in the Culm NCA who manage wildlife rich habitats. You can download our excellent collection of practical advice notes, which draw on the experience of the local farming community and combines the knowledge and skills of the Working Wetlands team, DWT and our partners.

Culm Connections

Since 1994, the Devon Wildlife Trust has produced Culm Connections, in order to help provide information to owners of land in the Culm about the landscape. It is full of interesting and practical information. The most recent edition is here, together with some of the more recent back editions.

•    CC35 – Winter/Spring 2014 (current edition)Culm Connections front cover

Watch the film
View the 10 minute project video which gives more information about Working Wetlands and its partners.

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