Dartmoor is a special place for many reasons, one of which is that it hosts an exquisite, vulnerable flower known as the Deptford Pink, Dianthus armeria. Being the new local Ranger for Buckfastleigh has meant that I was able to join our ecologist Naomi Barker, to undertake annual monitoring, that took place in July, with the help of two voluntary wardens, Carol and Bruce Durant.
Deptford pinks are found on three sites within Dartmoor National Park and although the plant is native to most of Europe it is only found in less than 7% of its historic area within Britain. Nationally it has declined dramatically over the last sixty years – one of the most rapid declines of any species of British flora, with only 15 known colonies in Britain. It grows in dry pastures, prefers disturbed ground and light sandy soils. The Deptford pink, sometimes known as the mountain pink, is included in the Biodiversity Action Plan for Dartmoor.
Surveying includes counting individuals (looking out for the distinctive pink flowers) using stratified random sampling, with 1m2 quadrats to give an average plant density, and therefore an estimation of the total number of plants present. This literally means scrambling up and down the steep slopes around Buckfastleigh where it is found, getting down on your knees and carefully counting individual plants!
The plants on the three sites are counted every year, and recently the numbers have appeared to be declining on two of the sites, despite careful management– reducing competition from encroaching scrub (like strimming away the bramble in the winter months), and scarifying the soil surface. Yet the third site is proving successful with a substantial increase in numbers. It is however difficult to assess the longer term levels of population as there is a possibility that the count is an underestimate (as the survey took place relatively late this year), and many individuals had already gone to seed due to the early hot and dry weather conditions.
Surveying and taking the opportunity to learn more about these special plants proved fascinating despite the very slippery steep slopes!
Thank you Naomi for a very informative day, and thank you to Carol and Bruce for joining us.