Figure 1. Slapton Ley landscape and habitats.
Slapton Ley provides a wide range of opportunities to contribute to an active programme of research building on a history of research since the Field Centre was established in 1959. The National Nature Reserve comprises coastal, wetland and woodland with Field Centre staff support and facilities.
SLAPTON LEY NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
Slapton Ley is a coastal lagoon 10km south west of Dartmouth shown in figures 1 and 2. The wetland is divided into the Higher Ley (39 ha) is mainly reedbed; the Lower Ley (77ha) is open water, fringed with reed. The freshwater Ley is separated from the sea by a 4km gravel barrier beach and shingle ridge. Together with surrounding woodland it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve (NNR). In 2005 the adjacent Loworthy Fields were included within the complex.
BENEFITS OF RESEARCH AT SLAPTON LEY
Support from field centre staff, data and access to field sites are provided free.
FSC Staff Support. Local knowledge and practical advice on locations, field sites and access agreements.
FSC Safety Systems. Exemplar risk assessments for field sites and fieldwork. Indirect supervision for lone working field researchers.
Environmental Context. Existing studies provide an environmental context for new research.
Meteorological Data. Meteorological records since 1959, collected in line with Met Office standards.
Long-Term Data. Free access to 50 years' data to identify trends.
National Nature Reserve. Nationally important species, biodiversity and geomorphology. Studies influence management policy and practice.
Secure Site. Safe installation of monitoring equipment. Field sites managed to support data collection with long-term tenure.
Facilities. Accommodation, lab and teaching facilities for individual researchers and groups at the Field Centre. A bursary is available to support accommodation and limited travel costs.
Field Course and Placement Links. Studies can be used to support Field Courses or completed on work based learning placements.
A Level Field Courses. Work with A Level geography and biology students on field courses and support transition to University.
ACCOMODATION AND TRAVEL BURSARY
For researchers wishing to carry out work at Slapton, provision of accommodation at the Field Centre and a limited travel bursary is offered by application. This will be awarded on a case by case basis. Please get in touch for more information.
Figure 2. Nature reserve environments.
BUILDING ON A WEALTH OF RESEARCH
The long tradition of research since the Field Centre was established in 1959 is summarised by Burt & Heathwaite (1996). This provides a brief review of over 35 of the more recent papers using the same areas of study:
Climate. Since 1959 meteorological readings are recorded daily and contribute to Met Office records. Burt & Horton (2001) note the favourable mild and moist climate as well as climate change, particularly increasing temperature. These data are very valuable for numerous long and short term ecological, hydrological and coastal studies.
Hydrology. Weekly monitoring established in 1969 continues to present, providing a unique record of a small catchment. Burt & Heathwaite (1996) summarise the most significant area of research in the 1980s & 1990s focusing on subsurface runoff and overland flow. Birkinshaw & Webb (2010) continue the study of Slapton Wood catchment, focusing on sub-surface streamflow using temperature tracers.
Water Quality. Weekly monitoring started in 1969 continue to be collected. Burt & Heathwaite (1996) summarise studies of nutrient export from land to stream, focusing on nitrate, phosphorus and potassium. Burt et al. (2010) put the Slapton nitrate issue in a UK context in comparison with other river catchments. Burt & Worrall (2009) update the Slapton Wood nitrate record, a unique 35-year record for a small catchment (fig 3). Long-term work continues to consider the impact of water quality on macroinvertebrates in the Ley (Hosking et al 2015).
Limnology. Weekly measurements of chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen and conductivity continue to be collected. Studies are summarised by Johnes & Wilson (1996). Burt & Heathwaite (1996) call for research into the impact of nutrient enrichment on the water chemistry of the Ley. Slapton Ley is an important area for macrophytes (Stewart 2004). These have been monitored annually since 1998 and the threats identified by Lambert (2007).
Sediment Yields. Weekly samples continue to be collected. Sediment dynamics are reviewed by Burt et al. (1996) and lake and floodplain sedimentation in Start valley is reviewed by Foster et al. (1996).
Vegetation. Bennett (2010) provides an NVC classification of the wetlands, a baseline survey and identifies the need to control succession in the fens. Nationally-rare Strapwort populations (figure 5) are recorded annually since 1978 and the factors affecting it are identified by McHugh (2007). Numerous undergraduate studies of shingle ridge vegetation highlight the impacts of exclosure plots and trampling. There are few studies of woodland flora and tree surveys in Slapton Wood and France Wood. Loworthy fields were surveyed with recommendations for management made by Streeter (2011).
Fungi. Dobson & Hawksworth (1996) identify the richest record of fungi in the world. Lichen surveys have been updated by Edwards (2009). However, there is a need for an interpretation of this data (Burt & Heathwaite 1996) particularly in the relation to Ecosystem Services.
Fish. Kennedy (1996) reviews 25 year records of roach, rudd, perch & pike. Scott (2003) investigates the impact of eutrophication on fish health. Bark et al. (2007) indicate the high density eel population and its importance for spawning and escapement in the UK.
Mammals & Other Animals. Riley (1996) reviews otters & mink studies including work by Chanin & Linn (1980) as well as numerous records and observations by staff and visitors. Guillem et al. (2012) apply the use of chemo-taxonomy of host ants to help conserve the Large Blue butterfly. Stone et al. (2009) and Goerlitz (2012) have undertaken specific bat behavioural studies. Summer monitoring contributes to national “citizen science” programmes for Lesser Horseshoe & Daubenton’s bats since 1998, Common Dormouse since 2001 and Butterflies since 2006.
Birds. BTO ringing (at Slapton Bird Observatory) and WeBS surveys carried out since 1959 are summarised by Elphick (1996). Whitehall (2007a) maps a range of species, notably including Great Crested Grebe (Whitehall 2007b), and Cetti’s Warbler (Whitehall 2009. Few studies have identified factors affecting bird populations, e.g. Cetti’s Warbler (Ward 1998). Slapton Ley is an important staging site for migrating birds including White Wagtails (Elphick 2012) and Swallows (Elphick 2011).
Education. Recent studies have started to consider pedagogy at different stages of education. Stokes & Gibson (2008) review student experiences of fieldwork. Welsh & France (2012) consider the use of smartphones for fieldwork. Pether (2012) considers the leadership needed to embed outdoor learning in the curriculum. Increasingly there is consideration of the impact of fieldwork on the wider environment. Weekly energy & water consumption has been recorded since 2002 and have been analysed against overnight visitor numbers to Slapton by Hale (2015). Ribchester, Hunt & Alexander (2009) compare the carbon footprint of UK fieldwork at Slapton Ley with overseas trips.
Coastal Landforms. There is a long history of studies of the South Hams coastal geomorphology, much of it conducted using the field centre as base location. Austin & Masselink (2006) study of morphological landforms and processes affecting the gravel barrier beach provides a much more detailed analysis using more high tech instrumentation (fig. 4) that supersedes student data summarised by Job (1993). Scott Wilson (2006) evaluates the wide ranging impacts of losing the A379. Royal Haskoning (2007) model the evolution of the barrier as a result of climate change and the impact of a breach on the wetlands.
DEVELOPING A RESEARCH PROJECT
FSC staff can provide support for your individual interest area and might be able to suggest projects which can be carried out in the study areas in the table below. It is useful if prospective researchers approach SLFC with an idea of the type of project they would like to be part of. We will do our best to accommodate you. Researchers should complete the Application Form (Link to website).
Details of location
Access Woodland Mixed deciduous woodland comprising ancient woodland, plantation and natural regeneration. SLNNR
Three small streams (Slapton, Gara and Stokley) run through the catchment and supply the freshwater latke of Slapton Ley, comprising the open water of the Lower Ley, and the more densely vegetated Upper Ley).
SLNNR / Third party if craft needed (I.e. singing paddles) Pasture Farmland surrounding the ley and NE of the village. Mostly grazing, mixed cattle and sheep. Some HLS. All conventional. Organic farm at Beeson. By negotiation with landowners.
Mixed and ancient hedgerows, field banks and margins present. Nature trail with dense woodland borders and mixed habitat.
SLNNR / Landowners Shingle Beach 5km shingle beach at Slapton Sands, comprising graded shingle with LSD direction S-N. Enclosure plots at back of beach provide comparison for trampling. Back of ridge accessible between road and Ley. Regularly disturbed by storms. SLNNR / Environment Agency depending upon work.
Small villages are plenty in the local area, with Slapton, Torcross and Stokenham being the closest. Mostly tourism, with some fishing industry. Storm damage sustained regularly on coastal settlements.
Dependent upon work and location. Field Centre Regular education programmes with a mix of age groups (primary through to HE). Field based courses linked to curriculum with classroom sessions. Residential, between 3-6 days. By SL Field Centre.
Reed Beds / Marsh
The upper Ley is an abundance of Phragmites reed beds, which extend into the mouth of Slapton and Gara streems. Reeds also on W fringes of Lower Ley. In addition, a wet meadow is maintained on the nature reserve.
By SLNNR Outside of nesting season unless permission sought for nesting-specific work. Marine Marine environment of Start Bay. Important lobster and crab fishery. 1-35m depth with shingle banks (Skerries). By third party
Table 1. Suggested locations for research projects.
ANNUAL RESEARCH SEMINAR
Researchers involved in projects on the NNR are asked to present their work to academics, professionals and amateur naturalists at the Annual Research Seminar held at Slapton. This provides opportunities to keep up to date and discuss current studies as well as develop new projects and make new contacts.
CONTACT DETAILS FOR MORE INFORMATION
Andrew Pratt, Head of Centre, Slapton Ley Field Centre, Slapton, Kingsbridge, Devon. TQ7 2QP. Tel: 01548 580466,
Email: email@example.com, Web: www.field-studies-council.org/slaptonley and www.slnnr.org.uk
Figure 3. Nationally rare Strapwort.
Austin, M. J., & Masselink, G. (2006). Observations of morphological change and sediment transport on a steep gravel beach. Marine Geology, 229(1), 59-77.
Bark, A., Williams, B., &Knights B. (2007) Current status and temporal trends in stocks of European eel in England and Wales ICES Journal of Marine Science 64(7), 1368-1378
Bennett, R. (2010) NVC survey of the wetland habitats of Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve: Stage 1. Unpublished
Birkinshaw, S. J., & Webb, B. (2010). Flow pathways in the Slapton Wood catchment using temperature as a tracer. Journal of Hydrology, 383(3), 269-279.
Burt, T. P., & Heathwaite, A. L. (1996). Long-term study of the natural environment at Slapton Ley. Field Studies, 8, 533-542.
Burt, T. P., Heathwaite, A.L., & Johnes, P. J. (1996). Streamwater quality and nutrient export in the Slapton catchments. Field Studies, 8, 613-627.
Burt, T. P., & Horton, B. P. (2001). The natural history of the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve XXII: the climate of Slapton Ley. Field Studies, 10(1), 93-114.
Burt, T. P and Worrall, F. (2009). Stream nitrate levels in a small catchment in south west England over a period of 35 years (1970 – 2005). Hydrological Processes 23, 2056-2068.
Burt, T. P., Howden, N. J. K., Worrall, F., Whelan, M. J., & Bieroza, M. (2010). Nitrate in United Kingdom Rivers: Policy and Its Outcomes Since 1970. Environmental science & technology, 45(1), 175-181.
Chanin, P. R. F., & Linn, I. (1980). The diet of the Feral Mink (Mustela vison) in Southwest Britain. Journal of Zoology, 192(2), 205-223.
Dobson, F. S., & Hawksworth, D. L. (1996). The Slapton fungal (including lichen) survey: inventorying and documenting changes in the mycobiota. Field Studies, 8, 677-684.
Edwards, B. (2009) Slapton Ley SSSI: site dossier for lichen interest features. Unpublished
Elphick, D. (1996). A review of 35 years of bird-ringing at Slapton Ley (1961-1995) together with a brief historical review of ornithological observations. Field Studies, 8, 699-725.
Elphick, D, (2011) Additional Slapton Ley NNR Swallow (Hirundo rustica) data, 2002-2010. Devon Birds,64.2,3-10
Elphick, D. (2012) Alba wagtails Motacilla alba at Slapton Ley NNR in 2010/2011. Devon Birds, 65.1, 13-18.
Foster, I. D. L. Owens, P.N. & Walling, D.E. (1996). Sediment yields and sediment delivery in the catchments of Slapton Lower Ley South Devon. UK. Field Studies, 8, 629-661.
Goerlitz, H.R., Genzel, D., Wiegrebe, L. (2012) Bats’ avoidance of real and virtual objects: Implications for the sonar coding of object size. Behavioural Processes, 89, 61– 67
Guillem, R. M., Drijfhout, F. P., & Martin, S. J. (2012). Using chemo-taxonomy of host ants to help conserve the large blue butterfly. Biological Conservation.
Hosking, D., (2015). Proceedings of Slapton Ley Field Centre Research Seminar. Available by request.
Hale, J., (2015). Proceedings of Slapton Ley Field Centre Research Seminar. Available by request.
Johnes, P. J., & Wilson, H. M. (1996). The limnology of Slapton Ley. Field Studies, 8(585), 612.
Kennedy, C. R. (1996). The fish of Slapton Ley. Field Studies, 8, 685-697.
Lambert, S.J. (2007) The Environmental Range and Tolerance Limits of British Stoneworts (Charophytes). PhD dissertation. University of East Anglia.
McHugh, C. (2007) The biology and habitat requirements of Corrigiola litoralis. BSc Dissertation. Unpublished.
Pether (2012) Leadership for embedding outdoor learning within the primary curriculum. National College for School Leadership
Ribchester, Hunt & Alexander (2009) "How big's your engine, mate?" Encouraging active participation in ESD by assessing the carbon footprint of fieldwork.
Riley, C. (1996) Mammals and other Animals. Field Studies, 8, 665-676
Royal Haskoning (2007) Slapton Ley Study: a vision for the future. Haskoning UK Ltd
Scott, D. M. S. (2003). The physiology and behaviour of fish from a freshwater, eutrophic lake, Slapton Ley, Devon. PhD dissertation. University of Exeter.
Scott Wilson (2006) Slapton Coastal Zone Management Main Study. Scott Wilson Ltd
Stokes, A. & Gibson, K. (2008) A-level student experience of residential fieldwork: Slapton Ley, 2008. University of Plymouth. Unpublished.
Stone, E. L., Jones, G., & Harris, S. (2009). Street lighting disturbs commuting bats. Current biology, 19(13), 1123-1127.
Stewart, N.F. (2004). Important Stonewort Areas. An assessment of the best areas for stoneworts in the United Kingdom (summary). Plantlife International, Salisbury, UK.
Streeter (201) Hedgeland, Loworthy Farm, Slapton. Unpublished
Ward, N. (1998) Study into the preferred habitat of Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti, with regard to invertebrate prey. BSc Dissertation. University of Plymouth. Unpublished.
Whitehall, B. (2007a) Data from Common Bird Census 2004-7.Unpublished.
Whitehall, B. (2007b) Data for Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) for 1998-2007. Unpublished.
Whitehall, B. (2009) Data for Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti) for 1998-2009. Unpublished.
Welsh, K., & France, D. (2012). Spotlight on… Smartphones and fieldwork. Geography, 97 (Part 1).
Andrew Pratt and Lewis Winks
Updated April 2017