Walk on the mires of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, with botanist David Allen, Sunday 21 July
By Malcolm Randle, adapted from an article for the Mid-Devon Natural History Group
I have lived in the close vicinity of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths for over 26 years
now, and have traversed most parts of them at various times. I believed I knew them pretty well and was fairly familiar with some of the more boggy areas. Little did I realise where the real mires were. The heaths tend to be known locally as Woodbury Common but they are in fact comprised of ten contiguous heaths, of which Woodbury is the largest.
On Sunday the 21st July I joined a walk led by botanist Dr David Allen, and it was warm sunny morning when we met up at Woodbury Castle car park. David is a member of the Devonshire Association Botany Group. He resides on the edge of the Blackdown Hills near Stockland, and is a recognised expert on the flora of the Blackdown Hills, and of East Devon generally. He introduced himself and said a few words about the Devonshire Association - of which Keble Martin was also a prominent member and the lead editor of their Flora of Devon, published in 1939.
David led us down the main central track, pointing out different flowers as we went,
including the three different species of heather that grow on the Common and a
substantial patch of Cat's-ear (Hypochaeris radicata). After about half a mile we turned
left, then, after a short distance left the track to walk across rough ground. Soon it began to get boggy and we had to start taking a bit of care, using the clumps of grass like stepping stones. David drew our attention to various plants and flowers to be found only in this type of habitat, and eventually we came to an area of small pools where we could progress no further. The map shows the location of the mires marked with an X . They are in fact situated within the part known as Colaton Raleigh Common.
We spent around two hours in the vicinity discovering the various plants - which included (1) bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), (2) bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella) growing alongside sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), (3) black bog-rush (Schoenus nigricans) and common cotton sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium). Another very attractive sedge was (4) the white beak-sedge (Rhynchospora alba) with its little white spiky flowers.
Growing in the pools were considerable quantities of bog St John’s wort (Hypericum elodes) although not much of it was still in bloom. It would have looked spectacular in May and June. Bell heather (Erica cinerea) was the most prevalent to be found in the boggy areas.
As one might expect there were areas where carnivorous plants such as sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) were growing but perhaps the highlight was David’s discovery of some pitcher plants. As they were in a rather inaccessible area to most of us, who were finding the going a bit tricky, he picked one so that we could see it at close quarters (5).
As to identification David said there were two taxa of pitcher plant near one another on Colaton Raleigh Common. One has red flowers and is Sarracenia minor and the other a yellow flowered one which is a hybrid involving Sarracenia flava. He said that without the flowers it was difficult to distinguish pitchers.
Eventually, after spending the best part of two hours in the mires, we returned to our starting point where David gave us a debrief. It was agreed that, thanks to him, we had all learnt about an area of heathland of which very few had been aware.
Botanist David Allen searching for bog plants.