Connecting the Culm is a project which is being developed to tackle some of the issues associated with the River Culm and its catchment, for example flooding and water quality. Blackdown Hills AONB is working with other partnership organisations, under the umbrella of the East Devon Catchment Partnership, to develop Connecting the Culm and bid for European funding for the project.

Connecting the Culm is a three-year project aimed at addressing some significant challenges posed by the River Culm and its catchment, for example flooding and water quality.

The project is being developed by a partnership of organisations of which Blackdown Hills AONB is one.

We are currently in the process of bidding for European funding for the project. If successful, we plan to commence the project in the spring 2019.

What are the issues associated with the River Culm?

  • 650 properties along the length of the Culm are at risk from flooding. The river also magnifies the flood peak of the Exe in Exeter, putting a further 5,000 properties at risk
  • The main railway line to Devon and Cornwall is affected by flooding on the Culm
  • The whole length of the River Culm and its tributaries are failing Water Framework Directive targets because of diffuse and point pollution and high sediment loads
  • The River Culm runs through major planned development areas, primarily the proposed 5,000-home Culm Garden Village
  • The River Culm is not currently covered by other initiatives to work with landowners and communities to secure improvements to the river and the riparian land, for example Catchment Sensitive Farming or Upstream Thinking
  • The River Culm flows directly into and affects internationally important wildlife habitats in the Exe estuary
  • The headwaters of the catchment support priority wetland mosaic habitats which have been degraded. These are important because they could act as natural sponges to reduce flood peaks and ameliorate drought conditions
  • The headwaters also support endangered populations of protected and priority species, including the white-clawed crayfish which is threatened by poor water quality and the invasive American signal crayfish
  • The River Culm is rich in heritage value, notably a chain of historic water mills with their associated leats, but these are under threat and little understood.

Connecting the Culm partner organisations

Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is one of a group of partnership organisations involved in the project, working under the umbrella of the East Devon Catchment Partnership. Each of the organisations brings relevant expertise to take a coordinated approach to the issues:

The partnership is actively seeking participation by other key stakeholders, who share our goals.


Aims of the project

The aims of the Connecting the Culm project are to:

  • Make the Culm river and its floodplain more resilient to flood and drought using nature-based systems and approaches
  • Improve water quality and biodiversity on the River Culm and consequently in the Exe and its estuary
  • Establish an engaged and committed community of knowledgeable and empowered citizens that supports the use of nature-based solutions to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change

We plan to:

  • Improve local people’s understanding of water management techniques and the function of the river ecosystem as an integrated whole
  • Create new opportunities for people to collaborate in addressing water management, leading to communities (including land managers) cooperating more effectively to address the challenges created by climate change
  • Install tangible demonstrations of appropriate nature-based solutions to build confidence, encourage cooperation and raise aspirations
  • Develop a ‘blueprint for the Culm’ that will be the masterplan for the whole catchment for the next 25 years, co-created by the people that live and work within the catchment and the organisations that have a role in the area.

A multi-agency team will work across the catchment to deliver the project, comprising specialists in natural flood management, community engagement and biodiversity.

Our approach will be to work throughout the catchment, engaging with people affected by, or playing a role in, the river and its tributaries. We will hold workshops and training sessions, taking audiences through a phased process of increased understanding, greater empowerment and a desire to bring about change by engaging with the opportunities offered:

  • Firstly, using scenario-forecasting to explore the potential impacts of climate change on the catchment;
  • Secondly, demonstrating innovative, nature-based techniques that are being developed to mitigate impacts and adapt to the new circumstances;
  • Thirdly, linking people in to take part in shaping a new governance solution for the catchment – the blueprint for the Culm.

Demonstration zones

We will create three ‘demonstration zones’ where the new techniques will be tested and demonstrated:

  • The headwaters zone – restoring the mires where the river and its tributaries arise whilst conserving the remnant population of white-clawed crayfish
  • The Culm Garden Village zone – where the first steps in developing a new town will be to construct flood management infrastructure on surrounding land, shaped by a catchment-wide hydrological study
  • The floodplain zone – rewilding the floodplain, working alongside land managers and creating new trails and ecotourism facilities

Each zone will test a range of nature-based interventions, shaped by its landscape and history, its communities and their aspirations. Examples include:

  • Adapting old drainage systems to re-hydrate spring-line mires
  • Creating leaky dams on streams and drainage channels using natural woody debris to create ponds and silt traps
  • Coppicing and laying bank-side trees to imitate beaver activity (that occurs in the neighbouring catchment), improve water oxygen levels and reduce livestock disturbance of the river bed
  • Reconnect the river to its floodplain and restore more natural floodplain function on intensively managed agricultural land to create new wetland habitat
  • Restoring historic leat systems and ponds that hold flood-peak waters and generating renewable electricity at their outlets

European funding bid

Connecting the Culm is part of an international partnership, with allied projects being developed by teams from Somerset, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. This wider partnership is developing a coordinated €8m bid to the Interreg 2 Seas Programme, part of the European Regional Development Fund, to demonstrate how communities can come together to implement nature-based solutions to climate-change related issues.

Connecting the Culm is expected to commence in Spring 2019 and run for three years. The cost will be in the region of €1.1m, funded partly by a 60% contribution from Interreg and the remainder by partners.

Contact details

To find out more and how to get involved, please contact:

Tim Youngs at the Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership.

Tel: 07890 615840 or email

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