Rare species thriving in East Devon site, finds report

The dartford warbler, southern damselfly and silver-studded blue butterfly are just some of the 375 rare or endangered species that have been discovered living on pebblebed heaths in East Devon.

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According to the ‘Providing Space for Nature’ study by the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, more than 3,000 different species of animals and plants have been recorded in the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in recent times.

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Notable species include; the southern damselfly, one of Europe’s rarest and most threatened damselflies, the dartford warbler, a species that remains all year round and thrives in dense gorse – in 2015 there were 73 pairs found on the heaths.

Additionally, out of the UK’s 12 native species of reptiles and amphibians, nine can be found on the heaths, with the rare smooth snake, which was reintroduced to the heaths after a 50-year absence in a programme launched in 2009, continuing to thrive.

Drawing on the findings of previous studies, researchers were able to confirm the presence, or historical occurrence, of 148 species of birds, 38 species of mammals, 50 species of butterflies, 517 species of moths, 243 species of beetles, 575 species of true flies, 605 species of plants and 377 species of fungi. Specialists have also identified 121 arachnids, and examples of 434 other species from various additional groups.

Co-author of the report and Nature Conservation Manager for Clinton Devon Estates, Dr Sam Bridgewater, said: “Covering over 1,000 ha, the Pebblebed Heaths are actually a big mosaic of a variety of different habitats, which together provide a home for a great number of characters which make up our heathland society.

“The records show that 3,108 species have been recorded to date within the Site of Special Scientific Interest. What is particularly noteworthy though, is that 10 per cent have significant conservation value. This is a high number.”

East Devon’s Pebblebed Heaths have been ‘Open Access’ since 1930, however the report warns that intensive public use of the heaths might cause “significant disturbance” of wildlife.

Dr Bridgewater, said “The SSSI contributes much to the physical and mental wellbeing of the local population, and there is a need to better understand and quantify this social value. Reconciling the demands of nature with those of the public will be a challenge over the coming years.”

He added: “The information in this report will be invaluable when it comes to preparing future management plans for this much-loved environment, will raise the profile of the heathland, and will help inform and guide others when preparing local plans. We also hope it will inspire people to go out and find species that aren’t yet on the list.

For more about the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, please visit: www.pebblebedheaths.org.uk

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Image: Guy Newman