Dunsdon contains probably the single most important example in England of a type of pasture known locally as Culm Grassland. Culm Grassland is a marshy, heathy vegetation that occurs over the slates and shales of the Culm Measures across north western Devon. It is a very diverse wildlife habitat, often extremely rich in wild flowers and supporting an immense range of other wildlife. Culm Grassland has declined sharply in extent since the 1970s and Dunsdon along with DWT’s other 7 Culm Nature Reserves represent an important reservoir for the wildlife of this area.
The open areas at Dunsdon are characterised by purple moor-grass, the tussocky deciduous grass which gives Culm Grassland its distinctive pale brown colour in winter. Soft and sharp-flowered rush are also abundant. Amongst this matrix of grass and rush the Nature Reserve supports 189 species of flowering plant, mosses and liverwort, though more lower plants remain to be recorded. Amongst the flowering plants are meadow thistle, devil’s-bit scabious, heath spotted orchid, southern marsh orchid, black knapweed, creeping willow, meadowsweet, sneezewort, wild angelica, ragged robin, saw-wort, cross-leaved heath, bog asphodel and a variety of sedges.
The site also has some notable rare plants including lesser butterfly orchid, wavy-leaved St. John’s-wort, petty whin and whorled caraway. Some former small fields have turned back to dense wet woodland. The wet woodland and scrub is dominated by grey and eared willow with alder and birch, with pedunculate oak, hazel and ash on the hedge banks. The woods have a rich lichen flora, including the bladder-beard lichen, which drapes from the branches and is indicative of high air quality.
This rich vegetation supports an equally rich insect fauna. Twenty six butterfly species have been recorded, including a very large and nationally important population of marsh fritillary, marbled white, silver-washed fritillary (occasionally), common blue and purple hairstreak. Moths are more diverse still, though a full species list has not yet been compiled. The narrow bordered bee hawk moth has been recorded in recent years. Dragonflies and damselflies are frequent, with broad-bodied chaser, golden-ringed dragonfly, common darter and banded demoiselle being found around the wetter areas of the Bude Canal.
Other easily-overlooked invertebrate groups include Red Data Book picture-wing flies, more than a dozen hoverfly species, and eleven species of snail-killing sciomyzid flies, with many more yet to be recorded. Over 50 bird species have been recorded at Dunsdon. Breeding birds include grey heron (in a small heronry in the trees just south of the viewing platform), buzzard, sparrowhawk, skylark, song thrush, spotted flycatcher, reed bunting, tree pipit, willow warbler, garden warbler and grasshopper warbler. Winter visitors include snipe, short-eared owl and woodcock. Barn owls use the site frequently as a feeding ground, and may be seen roosting in the trees. Mammals present on the site include fox, roe deer and badgers, and the thick hedge banks and scrubby areas also support dormice, feeding on hazel and honeysuckle.
Highlights: 26 butterfly species have been recorded here, with large numbers of marsh fritillary, marbled white, silver-washed fritillary, common blue and purple hairstreak. Other insects, such as moths, dragonflies, damselflies are all abundant here.
Birds: Grey heron, skylark, song thrush, buzzard, sparrowhawk, spotted flycatcher, reed bunting, tree pipit, willow warbler, garden warbler and grasshopper warbler all breed on the reserve. Snipe, short-eared owl and woodcock are all regular visitors. Barn owls use the site frequently as a feeding ground, and may be seen roosting in the trees.
Mammals: Fox, roe deer and badgers and dormice all occur on the reserve.
Location: Dunsdon lies about 6 miles east of Bude. The entrance to the Nature Reserve is just before Gains Cross. Grid reference: SS302080.
The pasture is grazed with hardy cattle from late summer to early autumn, and is burned (swaled) in the winter months. The swaling removes the dead grass each season, allowing the delicate plants to persist, and the grazing keeps the vigorous grasses in check while maintaining a diverse structure to the sward.
A boardwalk runs from the car park, under the trees to a viewing platform overlooking a Culm field. Here you will find information boards.
There is plenty of parking once through the large gate accessing the reserve. Note that the parking area surface has large stone chippings although you can usually park right next to the boardwalk. The nearest public facilities are in the towns of Holsworthy or Bude. There is a good garden centre (Brooks Nursery) on the road to Bude with cafe and disabled facilities.
• Easy access path length: 400m, linear
Taken from the Devon Wildlife Trust and Wildlife Extra