This distinctive type of damp pasture is generally found on commons, as a component of lowland fen, or in undeveloped corners of otherwise intensively farmed landscapes.

What is it? This moist, often tussocky (long and thick) grassland is found on flat or gently sloping land on peaty mineral soils in areas with higher rainfall (i.e. the west of the country), or on wetter peatlands in East Anglia. A variety of flowers such as meadow buttercup, devil’s-bit scabious, meadow thistle, ragged-Robin, water mint and self-heal are found with purple moor-grass and sharp-flowered rush. Where the soil is particularly low in nutrients, the vegetation becomes more heathy, with cross-leaved heath and tormentil. Scrub is common and the pasture is often bordered by hedgerows.

https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/habitats/grassland/purple-moor-grass-and-rush-pasture 

Why is it like this?

This habitat is considered to be derived from wetlands as a consequence of partial drainage, livestock grazing and cutting for hay and animal bedding. Widespread across the UK, its character is dependent on the climate, soils and management regime, and this is reflected in the variety of local names used for the habitat:

  • In the New Forest, on areas often referred to as ‘wet lawns’, heavy grazing means the sward can be very short, although it still contains typical species such as purple moor-grass, meadow thistle and devil’s-bit scabious, together with velvet bent grass and carnation sedge.
  • Further west, the sward is usually less heavily grazed and more tussocky, providing suitable habitat for the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.
  • In Devon, it is called ‘culm grassland’, after the underlying culm measures (a geological formation).
  • In Wales it is known as ‘rhôs pasture’.
  • In East Anglia, where it tends to be cut for hay (and is referred to as fen meadow), bulky tall herbs such as meadowsweet and angelica are a distinctive component of the vegetation and the presence of blunt-flowered rush indicates more lime-rich soils.
  • In northern England and Scotland, the meadow thistle characteristic of southern swards is replaced by globeflower and marsh hawk’s-beard.
  • In the cool, wet west, a species-poor version dominated by soft rush and sharp-flowered rush (sometimes enlivened with marsh bedstraw and greater bird’s-foot-trefoil) is widespread on more acid peats, often in poorly drained pockets within improved pastures, and is of limited wildlife interest.

What is it?

This moist, often tussocky (long and thick) grassland is found on flat or gently sloping land on peaty mineral soils in areas with higher rainfall (i.e. the west of the country), or on wetter peatlands in East Anglia. A variety of flowers such as meadow buttercup, devil’s-bit scabious, meadow thistle, ragged-Robin, water mint and self-heal are found with purple moor-grass and sharp-flowered rush. Where the soil is particularly low in nutrients, the vegetation becomes more heathy, with cross-leaved heath and tormentil. Scrub is common and the pasture is often bordered by hedgerows.

Conservation

Grazing and mowing are important to maintain plant species richness, as well as the structural diversity needed to support a range of invertebrates. Without cattle or pony grazing, or cutting for hay or bedding, flowers become smothered with a dense thatch of purple moor-grass (which, unusually for a grass, is deciduous) and wetland scrub can become established, eventually leading to wet woodland. Some sites are burned in late winter to remove the thatch and promote young fresh growth more palatable to livestock, and encroaching rushes are sometimes cut and removed.

As with many grassland types, much purple-moor grass and rush pasture has been lost through agricultural ‘improvement’ or has deteriorated through abandonment or inappropriate grazing. Some of this loss has been recent, with 50% of culm grassland lost in the last two decades of the 20th century. However, the value of this habitat is now more widely appreciated, and landscape-scale approaches aiming to link up fragmented sites and reinstate appropriate grazing are benefiting remaining areas.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Purple_moor_and_rush_pasture.JPG 

 

DEFRA MAGIC Priority Habitat Inventory - Purple Moor Grass and Rush Pasture (England)

This map shows the extent of Culm Grassland in the north of Devon.

https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx?chosenLayers=lau1Index,bappmg_rushpastIndex&box=178608:80647:332952:163958&useDefaultbackgroundMapping=false

 

National Character Area - The Culm

The rolling ridges and plateaux of the Culm extend across north-west Devon and north-east Cornwall, reaching from the foot of Dartmoor in the southwest and the edge of the Cornish Killas in the west, to the spectacular Atlantic coast of cliffs and sandy beaches in the north. North-eastwards they meet the Exmoor landscape and stand high above the Devon Redlands. The open, often treeless, ridges are separated by an intricate pattern of small valleys forming the catchments of the Rivers Taw, Torridge and Mole. This is largely a remote and sparsely populated landscape.

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/4292167?category=587130

 

Culm Grassland SAC

 

Culm Grasslands represents Molinia meadows in south-west England. This site contains extremely diverse examples of the heathy type of M24 Molinia caerulea – Cirsium dissectum fen-meadow, ranging from short, grazed swards through to stands that are transitional to scrub. Structural diversity accounts for the conservation of a wide range of flora and fauna, particularly of species characteristic of south-western Europe, such as meadow thistle Cirsium dissectum and whorled caraway Carum verticillatum.

https://sac.jncc.gov.uk/site/UK0012679 

 

BBC Sounds Farming Today

Released On: 29 Dec 2021 Available for 23 days

Sarah Swadling goes in search of one of the UK’s rarest farmland habitats, Culm Grassland. Around 90% of Culm has been lost to drainage, reseeding of pastures, and forestry. Its heartland is North Devon and North Cornwall, where farmers and conservationists are working together to preserve and restore the special blend of plants which makes Culm Grassland unique, and a haven for wildlife.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0012s90 

 

Wikipedia Purple moor grass and rush pastures is a type of Biodiversity Action Plan habitat in the UK. It occurs on poorly drained neutral and acidic soils of the lowlands and upland fringe. It is found in the South West of England, especially in Devon.

The vegetation consists of species-rich, semi-natural grassland containing abundant purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) and one or more of several creeping rushes: sharp-flowered rush (Juncus acutiflorus), jointed rush (Juncus articulatus) and blunt-flowered rush (Juncus subnodulosus).

Only 8% remains of the area thought to have existed in 1900. In the UK estimate the area is thought to be less than 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres). Their importance is recognised and are included as a priority habitat in the United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_moor_grass_and_rush_pastures 

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