Introduction to the Blackdown Hills garden by Mike
Edgington of English Nature
The Blackdown Hills are an upland area in the
South West of England and are situated in an officially designated Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The garden in question is in a small village
called Smeatharpe, once home to a WWII airfield. Mike Edgington gives
background information as to why the site is of such interest and also explains
the gardening challenges that the site management entails.
management) information for the client's land on Southey and Gotleigh Moors
The land (shown
outlined purple) is part of a larger area which is designated as S&G SSSI
(red outline). It is typical of the rest of the SSSI.
It is extremely
wet, being located on spring lines at the geological interface of the pervious
clay with flints and greensand overlying impervious Jurassic rocks. This
situation is quite common on the Blackdown Hills and the traditional landuse of
areas like this was extensive grazing usually with beef cattle. Ungrazed areas
develop into alder woodland where sallow and ash are the commonest associated
Client garden boundary
On the client's land the ground
flora of one wooded area (rightmost on the map ) is dominated by greater
tussock sedge. Individual plants can attain a height and width of several feet.
This type of woodland is one of the most uncommon in Britain and support some
unusual insects such as several species of rare cranefly (daddy longlegs).
Key to Habitats on map:
Purple Moorgrass mire
Scrub and grassland
persists the wet grass sward or mire almost invariably becomes dominated by
purple moorgrass, a vigorous species which can quickly become dominant
especially if grazing is relaxed for a few years.
However the wet,
low nutrient conditions also support a wide range of herb species which
although not nationally rare are all uncommon and very restricted to this type
of habitat, and these include heath spotted orchid, devil's-bit scabious, bog
asphodel, lousewort and two insectivorous plants; round-leaved sundew and pale
These can produce a
stunningly colourful display in summer. In addition these plants can provide
food for a range of invertebrates. Amongst these is the
fritillary butterfly which is both nationally and internationally rare and
protected. It lays its eggs on plants of devil's-bit scabious which are not too
small and not too big!
here for a guide to managing chalk grassland and damp grassland for this
The client's land
contains all of these species. The biggest challenge that they face is to
replace the effects of grazing animals on the open areas whose grazing would
prevent the purple moorgrass dominating and eliminating many other associated
species. This is being done by cutting and removing the cut material after the
growing and flowering period every few years.
It is a relatively costly
exercise as the work is done mostly by hand and it is perhaps not as good as
grazing in maintaining the habitat. However it is far better than allowing the
area to go unmanaged and see its biodiversity decrease. Here perhaps the
client's 'gardening' has replaced the traditional farming to maintain the
importance of the site. English Nature does help with the costs of this work.
In the woodlands the
situation is easier as they require virtually no management but even here the
client has been busy removing Himalayan balsam, a weed which now frequents many
wet areas of the country and if left unchecked can replace natural vegetation.
Woodland and purple moorgrass mire are the two
most important habitats on the client's land, both are of national importance,
but there are others. Species rich ancient hedgerows, a pond and areas of gorse
and bramble scrub and dry grassland all add to interest of the site and all
provide extra work in maintaining them and preventing species which can become
dominant from doing just that.
Southey and Gotleigh Moors
2003 English Nature