BARBECUES have been banned at Dawlish Warren to protect a rare plant threatened with extinction. 

Ecologists have been working at Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve in a bid to save the Petalwort, a minuscule plant which is only 2mm wide and looks like a tiny lettuce. 

Monitoring by South East Devon Wildlife, a partnership of councils, has shown while the plant has made its home at the Warren, climate change and increasing visitor numbers have threatened its existence. 

Teignbridge Council has received grant funding for a specialist to move the petalwort to a safer location at the Warren. 

The plant is extremely vulnerable so it is essential visitors do not light barbecues or fires anywhere at Dawlish Warren including the beach, dunes and the nature reserve. 

Ecologist Catriona Neil, of Spalding Associates, said:

‘On behalf of the site manager, Teignbridge District Council, I obtained a conservation licence from Natural England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) to relocate this protected species. 

‘This also required a Habitat Regulations Assessment.

‘I moved small sections of turf where the plants could be seen and replanted these in areas less likely to be submerged by seawater. 

‘They will also have just the right amount of footfall pressure on them that keeps more competitive plants from crowding it out.’

Stephen Edwards, Teignbridge Council Rranger at Dawlish Warren, said: ‘Almost 600 different types of flowering plants have been recorded at Dawlish Warren. 

‘The high number of species in such a small area is partly due to the richness of habitat found on the Nature Reserve. 

‘Many of the Warren’s special plants are very small because they are more likely to survive that way due to the poor soil, dry summers, rabbit grazing and trampling from people walking there.

‘With our changing climate, it’s likely that the sand dunes could shift more frequently. 

‘If this happens, areas where petalwort flourished could become submerged by seawater. 

‘So to preserve the plants, they have been transplanted in small turf sections to more suitable locations.

‘These plants are extremely vulnerable so it’s essential that visitors do not light barbeques or fires anywhere at Dawlish Warren.’