Barnstaple. Report from the Botany Section

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Author(s): Breeds. Mary; Year published: 2014; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): botany; Location(s): Barnstaple

Barnstaple and much of its hinterland around the Taw-Torridge estuary lie within the ‘buffer’ zone of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the core of which is the exceptionally botanically rich sand dunes of Braunton Burrows that lie 5 to 6 miles to the west. It is not surprising, therefore, that an impressive variety of good botanical locations occur here, with saltmarsh, dunes, herb-rich grassland, woodland, heathland, species-rich hedgerows, wetland and arable habitats – all within a 5-mile radius of Barnstaple.

Situated on the edge of the tidal River Taw, Barnstaple is close to a range of estuary habitats with many expanses of grazed and ungrazed saltmarsh on both sides of the River. Many of the common saltmarsh plants are plentiful, such as Sea Purslane (Atriplex portulacoides), Marsh Samphire (Salicornia agg), Sea Aster (Aster tripolium) and Sea Lavender (Limonium vulgare), as well as less common species, such as Sea Wormwood (Artemisia maritime), Parsley Leaved Water-dropwort (Oenanthe lachenalii) and Brackish Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus baudotii).

Being an old port, it is not surprising that several non-native plant species have become established close to Barnstaple. Aliens, such as Canadian Fleabane (Conyza canadensis) and Cockspur Grass (Echinochloa crus-galli), are quite widespread on wasteland, and just upstream by the River Taw a plant of Spiny Cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum) was discovered in 2010.

The Tarka Trail running along the disused railway line from Braunton to Bideford passes through Barnstaple and contains a mosaic of good plant habitats either side of the Cycle path. Large amounts of stone were brought in to construct the original embankments and this has resulted in colonisation by some non-local species. The only two north Devon sites for Green Winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio) occur in grassland on the estuary side of the Tarka Trail at Ashford and at Fremington, along with other interesting plants such as Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola).

Fremington, with its pill and old clay pits is an interesting area and a good locality for plants such as Stone Parsley (Sison amomum) and Grey Sedge (Carex divulsa). The management of the nearby Gaia Reserve at Home Farm Marsh is primarily aimed at encouraging declining species of farmland and wetland birds, but its organic arable fields are also a refuge for some of our declining arable weeds, such as Sharp-leaved and Round-leaved Fluellen (Kicksia elatine and K. fluellen). Along its boundary bank with the Isley Marsh RSPB reserve, can be found the scarce Sea Clover (Trifolium squamosum).

North-eastwards from Barnstaple, along the winding valley of the River Yeo is Snapper, where a notable south-western plant, the Bastard Balm (Melittis melissophyllum) can be found growing on the edges of south-facing wooded slopes. Close by, a very large population of Greater Butterfly-orchids (Platanthera chlorantha) was discovered in 2010, and nearby at Chelfham, patches of the scarce Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla filicaulis SSP vestita) are plentiful in remnants of herb-rich grassland.

Above the village of Bishops Tawton, to the south of Barnstaple, lies Codden Hill, an ancient beacon site, where a large tract of moorland vegetation survives on its north side. Here an abundance of beautiful Heath Spotted-orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata SSP ericetorum) can be found in mid-summer among Bell (Erica cinerea) and Ling heathers (Calluna vulgaris) and the low growing Western Gorse (Ulex gallii). Clumps of Pill Sedge (Carex pilulifera), with its curved inflorescence, along with Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) and Heath Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia), are characteristic of the acid soil on this piece of moorland. Lying south of Codden Hill is West Irishborough with its series of flooded limestone quarries, an unusual feature of north Devon and home to the rare Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris). Finally, our special Devon tree, the Devon Whitebeam (Sorbus devoniensis), occurs quite frequently within the hedgerows and woodland edges of the Taw valley and can be seen at the Devon Wildlife Trust Reserve at Uppacott.

Mary Breeds

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