STARVED WOOD SEDGE

Carex depauperata

A unique sedge, both because of its rarity and the fact it has the largest fruits of any native species.

  • Rarity: 2 sites in the south of England.

  • Cause of decline: Loss of woodland management.

Starved Wood-sedge (SWS) once had the dubious honour of being the rarest plant in the UK, when just a single plant existed in a site near Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. As testament to three decades of work by conservationists, in 2019 the UK population stood at over 200 plants, spread across 2 native sites and 4 re-introduced populations

During this time, however, the species has been lost from Ireland and despite over two decades of work at the native Surrey site, the population there has fallen in recent years.

Both native sites are on the edge of bridleways and lie within unprotected sites, so remain extremely vulnerable to accidental damage. The plant is named due to each panicle producing few seeds (thus depauperate, or starved). These utricles are however amongst the largest produced by any sedge species.

Germinating plants from seed has continued to prove elusive, and vegetative spread is likely to be the main way populations grow, explaining its poor ability to colonise or spread. It does however possess a long-lived seedbank, as demonstrated by its miraculous reappearance in Surrey at the end of the 20th century.

Starved Wood Sedge Survey 2015

Starved Wood-sedge is currently confined to two native sites, Cheddar Woods in Somerset and Ockford Wood in Surrey. In addition there is a re-introduced population at Charterhouse School (from where it disappeared in the 1950s) comprising two sub-sites and an earlier re-intro site at Cheddar.

In 2015 the Somerset site recorded a huge increase of plants, most likely as a result of scrub clearance work carried out as part of the SITA funded project in 2014.

 

The Surrey sites all recorded a small decrease, although there are several young plants present which currently can not be identified with 100% accuracy, so this number may pick up in future years.

All the sites are in good condition, and management issues surrounding the dumping of leaf sweepings at Charterhouse 1 appear to have been resolved. All the Charterhouse populations are still in an early post-establishment stage, so the fact their numbers are holding up so well is encouraging.

 

The increase in plants numbers at Cheddar is hugely positive news, leading to 2015 recording the highest UK population of plants seen for some time, as well as a good indication that we are getting the management right there.