Common Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest
Common Moor is one of a few remaining sites of a type of wet heathland restricted to North Devon and Pembrokeshire and was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1988 in an attempt to protect its unique features. It is referred to as a ‘Culm grassland’ which is the local name given to species-rich wet mire, grassland and fen habitats found on the clay soils of north-western and central Devon and north-east Cornwall. All Culm grasslands are nationally important as this type of habitat is rare: North Devon holds more than 80% of the Culm grassland left in England.
The Moor typically has a mix of wet and dry heathland communities combined with tall herb fen. When in good condition, the site will support a diverse plant and invertebrate fauna and the major part of the Common Moor consists of wet grassy heath which is dominated by Purple Moor-grass, Heather, Western Gorse and Cross-leaved Heath. This then grades into dry heath, with frequent Bristle Bent and Gorse scrub. A rich invertebrate fauna has also been recorded here including the local Marsh Fritillary and Marbled White butterflies, the nationally rare cranefly (Limnophila abdominalis) and the nationally scarce longhorn beetle.
Unfortunately, it has deteriorated over the years and the loss of plant diversity since its original designation means that it currently holds the SSSI status of ‘Unfavourable Declining’ with Natural England. The site is at risk of being taken over by scrub in the future if the lack of management continues and this would change the local landscape physically in terms of the views available but also ecologically.
To maintain Culm grasslands they are ideally grazed by traditional breeds of cattle or Dartmoor / Exmoor ponies. These animals are good at eating the tough and course vegetation and at breaking up the sward to create opportunities for seeds to germinate. Swaling (burning) has also been a means of managing culm grassland as it enables the growth of fresh vegetation in spring which is very palatable for livestock. Swaling removes most of the dead material created by purple moor-grass and this promotes the growth of more wildflowers which would find it difficult to grow through a thick mat of dead vegetation.
The future of Common Moor is being considered by the Parish Council, local residents, Devon Wildlife Trust and Natural England. These pages will be updated regularly as the management strategy develops.