Some things in life simply don’t need to be worked at to be beautiful, and Culm grassland, or Rhôs pasture (as it’s known in Wales), could be considered one of them. A natural grassy moor that’s not only naturally stunning but provides a haven for our insects and wildlife and an ecosystem that reduces flood risk. However, with vast swathes already lost and with a continuing threat of afforestation and overgrazing, it’s crucial that we not only preserve these natural landscapes but promote their expansion.
So, what is Culm Grass?
The soils associated with Culm grassland or Rhôs pasture are usually acidic, making Culm ideal for supporting its characteristic purple moor grass. This tussocky deciduous grass gives Culm its distinctive pale brown colour during the winter months. It offers a remarkable natural landscape that’s not only a vital habitat for our wildlife but plays an essential role in preventing flooding and keeping our water clean; ultimately, Culm habitats are only a good thing for our environment. With such an important role to play, it may surprise you that 92% of Culm grassland has been lost within the past 100 years, with 48% of these beautiful pastures disappearing between 1984 and 1991.
Where can you find Culm Grassland?
Fauna & Flora of Culm Grassland
Whilst Culm’s distinctive purple moor grass is abundant, it’s not the only plant species to grow on these sites, sharing it alongside rushes, birch and willow scrub. Culm also supports a wide variety of beautiful flowering plants, including meadowsweet, heath spotted orchid, meadow thistle, bog asphodel, devil’s-bit scabious, creeping willow, greater bird’s-foot trefoil, water mint and various sedges. Rarer plants to be found include the lesser butterfly orchid, pale butterwort, and plane round-leaved sundew.
Although a scarce habitat, there is an abundance of wildlife species to be found in Culm grassland, especially butterflies. Prominent wildlife includes:
- The marbled white butterfly
- Narrow-bordered bee hawkmoth
- The brown hairstreak butterfly
- Freshwater pearl mussels
- The Marsh fritillary butterfly
Typically found birds are the breeding and wintering snipe, short-eared owl and barn owl, willow tit, grasshopper warbler, reed bunting and woodcock. Also commonly seen on Culm are countryside animals like deer and fox who use these sites to find shelter.
Culm grassland is a vital habitat for our wildlife and insects, but it goes much further than that with its distinctive natural purple moor grass and rush pasture which has a real potential to hold water, filter pollution, and retains carbon. Culm’s capacity to store and filter water reduces flood risk and helps to keep our water clean, and the top soils of the Culm grasslands also store double the carbon than intensively managed farmland. It’s only when we begin to understand all the services a Culm ecosystem provides that we can appreciate just how important these habitats are to our environment and why it’s vital to protect Culm grassland and restore lost sites.