The Results Of Years Of Hard Work By SVBG Members Has Been Compressed Into A Concise & Powerful Display For An AONB Exhibition At Kennaway House

Below is a copy of the text on the display board … but to see photos of the plants at a larger scale you need to visit Kennaway House between 10-4, July 17-22nd 2023.

The East Devon AONB is blessed with a wonderful floral diversity.

The Sid Valley is a microcosm of that diversity. We have habitats from the offshore rock shelf of Chit Rocks, to the cliffs climbing up to the 200m high heathland of Muttersmoor. There is broadleaf and coniferous woodland, pastoral and arable farmland including many miles of banked hedges, and the river Sid itself.

The area’s underlying geology is just as diverse with areas of alluvium, Mercia mudstone, Upper Greensand and areas of Clay with Flints which is the weathered remnant of the Chalk that can still be sepn at Beer and further east.

In 2021, the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group began a survey of the herbaceous plants growing wild in and around the Sid Valley to compare with a Victorian list published in 1849 by W.H. Cullen in his Flora Sidostiensis.

The 2021 survey was a citizen scientist project with volunteers from the group noting which flowers and other plants they saw when out walking around the town and in the countryside. This was not totally random, apart from casual walks, a number of sites around the valley were selected for regular survey to represent the range of habitats including the beach, hedges, heathland, and open grassland.

The sites were selected to cover the valley from north to south and east to west.

Bob Hodgson was another of Sidmouth’s amateur botanists and he did a huge amount to support the Sid Vale Association and the Devon Trust for Nature Conservation, the precursor to the Devon Wildlife Trust. Between 1980-83,

Bob and some friends set out to see how many of the species listed by Victorian botanists could still be found. Bob’s total was 410 species including several that had moved into the valley since the Victorian survey.

The new list can he found on the SVRG website but it is not a complete record for the valley. The volunteers continue to record new species, particularly as they gain access to new areas of the northern part of the valley.

There are now 456 species of vascular plant on the database.

Many of the herbaceous species from 170 years ago are still with us, plus new species such as the Mexican and Canadian Fleabanes (Erigeron karvinskianus and F canadensis which seem to have colonised every wall and pavement in the town since Dr Cullen’s time. However, there is no room for complacency.

We have a list of soecies. but we have not made any estimate of abundance for most of them

Lots of the Victorian species are listed as being found in meadows and pastures and Cullen describes many of the flowers with adjectives such as plentiful, common, abundant, or frequent. Very few of the grassland species would attract such adjectives today. We have less than half the grassland that Cullen would have seen, and modern grassland has a very different species make-up with more erass by volume and fewer non-grass species.

The banked hedges that are a Devon speciality are home to many herbaceous flowers.

A 2020 survey of local hedgerows by Sidmouth Arboretum revealed that there are now far fewer miles of these important wildlife havens than Cullen would have known.

Also, as with the grassland, modern maintenance methods mean the hedgerows that do remain will support fewer wildflowers.

Herbaceous plants are an integral part of our natural web.

This loss of flower abundance is having a knock on effect on wider biodiversity with fewer insects such as butterflies and bees that depend on the flowers, and fewer birds that depend on the insects to feed their young. The work of the AONB is vital in promoting and protecting our local biodiversity.

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