Vegetation & Plant Life

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Generally speaking, the Pebblebed heaths comprise two primary distinct vegetation types: dry heath and  wet heath, with the former typically occurring on slopes and better drained areas, and the latter in valley bottoms, associated with streams, water table flushes or where the land is poorly drained. These two distinct types of heath conform respectively to National Vegetation Classification (NVC) categories H4 (Western gorse Ulex europeaus/bristle bent grass Agrostis curtisii heath) and M16 (Cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix-Sphagnum compactum wet heath). Although these two broad and locally variable vegetation types ‘define’ the Pebblebed heaths, over 37 different plant communities have been recorded, including those associated with woodland, mire and bracken. 

The largest vegetation type by area is the dry heath. This is characterised by the presence of Calluna vulgaris, western gorse (Ulex gallii) and bristle bent grass (Agrostis curtisii), with bell heather (Erica cinerea), cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) or deer grass (Trichophorum cespitosum) also abundant, dependent on the location. Typically the abundance of cross-leaved heath and purple moor grass increases and the abundance of western gorse decreases as one moves from dry to wet heath. One valley mire community of particular importance, and which is nationally scarce is the black bog rush-bog (Schoenus nigricans) / bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) community (M14). Typical associates include round-leaved sundew (Dosera rotundifolia), pale butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica), bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella) and white-beak sedge (Rhynchosdpora alba). This appears where calcium-rich waters flush onto the valley sides.  

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Although individual dry heath communities can typically be species poor, over 580 plants species have been recorded from all the vegetation types to be found on the Pebblebed heaths. This includes 34 species that are garden escapee (such as daffodils, Monbretia, Cotoneaster spp. etc.)  and 13 species which are potentially invasive and which the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Ttrust is managing to eradicate. These include Himalayan balsam, parrot’s feather and Japanese knotweed.

64 species have local, national or international designations or protection, with 14 on the Red List, seven classified as nationally scarce and 46 as ‘Notable in Devon, of which 10 are considered to be rarities in Devon.

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