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Unimproved Grasslands

Unimproved Grasslands

Unimproved Grasslands

Can unimproved grassland deliver natural flood management alongside multiple environmental benefits?

Culm grassland is a wet unimproved grassland found in North Devon and Cornwall on the Culm measures. The grassland is valued for species diversity, but also stores and attenuates surface water during rainfall. The PhD aim is to investigate the natural flood management potential of this unique environment.

Culm grassland (or Rhos pasture) is species rich unimproved grassland found on the Culm measures in North Devon and Cornwall. The grassland is a mixture of purple moor grass (Molinia Caerulea) and rush pasture. With the increase in agriculture, 90% of this grassland has been lost since 1950. Only pockets of fragmented Culm grassland remain across the NCA.

The grassland is valued as a species rich habitat for a variety of fauna and is used for low intensity grazing. But Culm grassland has also been shown to provide natural flood management benefits through working with natural processes. Water is stored within the dense clay soil and upon the surface between the dense tussock structures formed by Molinia Caerulea. The surface flow is attenuated by the surface roughness and tussock network in Culm grassland. These processes may contribute to reducing local flood risk in catchment headwaters. There are also other potential ecosystem services such as carbon storage and water quality improvement.

The aim of the PhD is to investigate the different hydrological processes within Culm grassland from the plot to sub-catchment scale. Hydrological monitoring and modelling is ongoing across sites in North Devon to fully understand the natural flood management potential of this diverse grassland.

This project is in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency.

Team members

  • Prof Richard Brazier
  • Dr Karen Anderson
  • Nicola Ellis


  • Devon Wildlife Trust
  • Environment Agency
  • University of Exeter

Project partners


How can culm grassland help with natural flood management?

A PhD study by Dr Nicola Ellis