Regular visitors to East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve (NNR) may have noticed a new face around the place. That’s me! My name is Emily Weeks and I am a placement student with Plantlife, but I will be spending quite a bit of time here at Yarner Wood.
I spent much of my childhood outdoors, my family having a great appreciation for the natural world. Many a day was spent in National Trust gardens and walking trails though woods, which no doubt led to my love of nature. I got interested in the conservation of nature however, through studying the Amazon rainforest in secondary school. The diversity of species within rainforests and the complexity of their ecosystems showed me how fascinating the planet could be, and I wanted to help protect it. It felt natural for me to study Environmental Conservation at Bangor University.
University helped me to narrow down my interests. I learnt that I was more interested in working with plants than animals; that Britain’s flora was amazing and varied, and that I didn’t need to travel across the world to see rare and interesting plants! I found habitats and ecosystems to be intriguing and I wanted to learn more about them. Imagine my delight to find that Britain has its own rainforest! The desire to get some experience in the industry as well as better knowledge of plant conservation led me to Plantlife, a British conservation charity that works to save threatened wild flowers plants and fungi. I am on placement until May 2020 with Plantlife’s Building Resilience in South West Woodlands project (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund), during which time I will experience a plant conservation project in action.
Plantlife and East Dartmoor NNR
Building Resilience in South West Woodlands is all about the Atlantic woodlands of the South West (also known as temperate rainforest) and the rare and threatened ‘lower plants’ that are found within them. This includes lichens and bryophytes. Lichen are a partnership between a fungi and an alga (or sometimes a cyanobacteria). Bryophytes is the name of a group of plants that includes mosses, liverworts and hornworts. I’ve been learning about lichens and bryophytes through the project’s New Generation Botanist training schemes which aim to train people up to be able to carry out surveys.
The East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve includes the Bovey Valley Woods and Yarner Wood which are part of the temperate rainforests of western Britain. They are managed by the Woodland Trust and Natural England who are partners with Plantlife on this project. For this reason, I get to work with East Dartmoor NNR at Yarner Wood where Natural England have kindly offered me office space!
Past, present and future
So what have I been up to so far? It’s been a month and a half since I started my placement and it’s been jam packed with moss and lichen learning. The New Generation Botanist courses for bryophytes and lichens which are ongoing and will continue into the new year. I have received first aid training which is both necessary and valuable or anyone who works in the outdoors.
I’ve been involved with some of the monitoring work being carried out alongside the woodland management taking place in the Bovey Valley Woods. Here trees and shrubs are being removed in order to improve light levels within woodland that had become shady. With East Dartmoor NNR’s Reserves Manager, Albert Knott, I used a canopy scope camera to look at canopy cover around old oak trees in Trendlebere Down next to Old Manaton Road. I took photos before and after management had taken place to measure the increase in gaps in the canopy once management work was carried out. The intention of the management is to let more light into the woods and on to the trunks of oak trees therefore creating better conditions for lichens to grow, as well as allowing more space for the oaks to branch out into, as shown below.
I helped with the premiere of a film the young people of MED Theatre created about the temperate rainforests, alongside Natural England trainees as part of the project. This was shown at the Woodland Centre in Yarner Wood but if you weren’t there fear not you can also see it here
Over the next few months I will be getting started on a few projects including creating a display for a visitor centre on temperate rainforests and the project, I will be starting to compile an online photo library of rainforests and their lower plants. I will be involved in some exciting monitoring of some rare lichens that have been ‘translocated’ which means that they have been moved from one tree to another in order to preserve it, as a last resort where a tree has fallen down and the lichen is at risk of being eaten by slugs!
I’m looking forward to getting more involved in the project and the work going on here at East Dartmoor NNR.
Written by Emily Weeks, University Placement Student with Plantlife