Hi all, my name is Morwenna and I joined the South West Lakes team in late September as the new Dartmoor biodiversity officer.

I have recently moved back to the South West from the Highlands of Scotland where I was working as an ecologist. My previous role involved many upland bird surveys, locating breeding raptors and waders in the heather clad hills, as well as peatland monitoring surveys, assessing the condition of restored peat bogs in the Cairngorms National Park. This work has been going on in the Highlands for around 30 years and has made some significant changes to the upland ecology and hydrology.

Having gained experience from the uplands of Scotland I can now bring this knowledge to the moors of the South West to compare and contrast with the peatlands and moorlands we have down here. There are differences, however, in how these places have been managed historically and of course in the climate and geography.

My role is to work with South West Water on their Green Recovery project, aiming to improve biodiversity throughout the catchment of Burrator Reservoir. This is a part of the wider Upstream Thinking project by South West Water, which aims to improve water quality upstream of the reservoir whilst holding more water on the hills for longer, in order to have a better quality of drinking water which is also more resilient to drought. At Burrator, biodiversity enhancements will span all of the diverse range of habitats we have here, from the lowland mixed deciduous woodlands and upland oakwoods, to the upland heaths, blanket bogs and the acidic flushes associated with floodplains.

I have planned a number of actions to improve biodiversity, which will include planting areas of new wood pasture, wet woodland and community orchards, diversifying our range of trees and woodlands on the site, creating more habitats and more food supply for our native fauna. We will continue to manage our current woodland areas by creating glades and rides where insects and wildflowers can flourish and by creating and maintaining plenty of deadwood for fungi and specialist invertebrates, which will return nutrients to the forest soil.

Higher up on the moors we will experiment in diversifying the purple moor grass (Molinia) dominated moorland, by trying out different techniques to open up the dense thatch of Molinia and allowing flowering moorland plants like heather and bilberry to come through, which supply food for important pollinators and fruits for birds and small mammals. Creation of wet valley mires by introducing large woody debris and leaky dams to our rivers will hold water on the hill for longer, increasing the catchment’s resilience to both droughts and flash flooding. This will also create habitat for specialist birds like snipe and possibly curlew.

I have met with some commoners and aim to hold more stakeholder engagement meetings, to build positive relationships with our neighbours and share ideas for biodiversity enhancements in the catchment.  We will also be working with Plymouth and South Devon Community Forest to create areas of woodland to be used by the local community.