Moorland project aims to find 'hidden habitat' wildlife sites
This winter could hold some surprises for nature-lovers on Exmoor where a special project has been launched to try and discover hidden gems that may lie undetected among the national park's diverse range of habitats.
For the next six months surveyors from the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre (DBRC) will be working with Exmoor National Park staff and local landowners in an attempt to find previously unrecorded environmental treasures.
No designated county wildlife sites have been identified on Exmoor since 2003, which has spurred the park authority and DBRC to stage the Hidden Habitats and Sites of Exmoor project.
A spokesman from Devon Wildlife Trust which hosts the DBRC said: "With the growing pressure on the park's landscape, these field surveys will help future planning of resources and projects to help protect its rich biodiversity.
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DBRC is the central repository for species, habitat and geological data within the county and, even though two-thirds of Exmoor National Park lies within Somerset, staff know that surveying the uplands can throw up unique challenges.
"Many sites are hard to access and include steep-sided river valleys so it can be physically very demanding and the weather can have a real influence on our progress," said Emma Magill who is leading the survey.
"The continued dry spell has also made grassland sites more difficult to survey this year, but thankfully many sites show signs of recovering during September."
Existing county wildlife sites (which are not a statutory designation, unlike a Site of Special Scientific Interest) contain some of Exmoor's rarest habitats including flower-rich meadows, lowland heathland and ancient woodland, many of which are of importance in a national context.
Ian Egerton, manager of DBRC, commented: "It is important we record the species present on these sites not only for their protection and future land management but because these sites provide a way to monitor the health of the park if revisited over time.
"Many of the sites represent corridors through which mammals, butterflies and invertebrates can travel and connect," he added.
"Climate change and land-use change has put increasing pressure on many of the parks iconic species and maintaining a network of local sites will be important to ensuring Exmoor can continue to be home to species such as the heath fritillary butterflies and nightjar."