What are springs and seepages?
Springs and seepages are flowing water bodies characterised by low flows. They are generally very shallow and some are little more than a thin film of water flowing over the ground. Springs and seepages are normally associated with the upper sections of water bodies however this is not always the case. In this context, seepages are areas where underground water is released onto the surface over a wide area, whereas springs well up from a single point. These create marshy and wet habitats where unique groups of plants and animals thrive.
Where are springs and seepages found?
The character of the spring or seepage is defined by local geology and underlying soil types, and can occur within a variety of areas including cliffs, woodlands, heathland and limestone areas. They can easily be distinguished by a change to water-loving vegetation and a sudden need for wellies! Although some types of springs and seepages can have quite distinctive vegetation, in the past they have often been considered as an element within the broader habitat due their often limited extent.
Wet Flush at Burcombe
© Roger Key
What lives in springs and seepages?
Seepage habitats are often home to diverse invertebrate community including: flies (particularly Soldier flies), crane flies, caddisflies, stoneflies, spiders, flatworms, worms and water beetles as well as dragonflies and smaller damselflies (such as the Small Red Damselfly).
Why are these areas vulnerable?
Springs and seepages are vulnerable due their small size and due to a lack of research. It's likely that many important spring and seepage sites in the UK are unprotected and many will have been overlooked in habitat surveys that do not consider habitats below a critical area. Springs and seepages are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, drainage and water abstraction, but also to inappropriate management techniques, all of which can lead to the loss and damage of these unusual habitats.
Wessex Springs and Seepage project
The Wessex Water region is an important area in the UK for springs and seepages with seven associated Biodiversity Action Plan species occurring in the region, along with many of the 53 associated Red Data invertebrate species. At the moment these sites are under surveyed in Wessex and there is little awareness of their importance. This project seeks to identify key spring and seepage sites for invertebrates in the Wessex Water area and to provide management advice for the future preservation of these habitats.
In 2010 thanks to funding from Wessex Water Buglife began a five year project to assess the springs and seepages present within the Wessex area. A number of sites within the area were identified as potential areas for study and four priority survey areas were selected to establish which invertebrates and mosses live on these sites and how they should be managed. The project has already looked at the sites in the Blackdown Hills area, which is a fantastic area, rich in springs and seepages, the area around Lyme Regis which has some interesting cliff seepages and is currently looking at the Mendip Hills area.
Link to Wessex Springs & Seepages Project Summary Sheet.
© Roger Key
1) The Blackdown Hills on the Devon / Somerset border were surveyed in the first year of the project with sites located within seven different SSSI sites; Blackdown & Samford, Hense Moor, Ruttersleigh, Deadman, Ashculm Turbary, Ringdown and Southey and Gotleigh Moor.
Invertebrate and bryophyte survey work was conducted on 16 survey sites in August 2010 and May 2011 and bryophyte surveys were carried out on the same sites in March 2011. A total of 121 aquatic invertebrates and 291 terrestrial invertebrates were recorded and these include one possible Red Data Book and 14 Nationally Scarce species. Ashculm Turbary was the site which had the greatest number of species of high nature conservation value (a total of seven Nationally Scarce species recorded).
Listed below are the species of conservation concern recorded in the Blackdown Hills area during the 2010 / 11 surveys:
Red Data Book: Tabanus miki.
Nationally Scarce: Agabus melanarius, Chaetarthria seminulum, Laccobius atratus, Tipula yerburyi, Dixa maculata, Ptychoptera longicauda, Sphegina verecunda, Xylota florum, Sapromyza basalis, Sapromyza zetterstedti, Psacadina verbekei, Tetanocera punctifrons, Elachiptera pubescens, Meonura minutissima.
Link to Blackdown Hills Invertebrate Survey.
Link to Blackdown Hills Bryophyte Survey.
Cliff Tiger Beetle
© Roger Key
2) The coastal cliffs around Lyme Regis in Dorset were the second area to be surveyed and several sites between Stonebarrow Hill near Charmouth east and Eype Mouth were surveyed.
Invertebrate surveys were conducted on 12 sites within three different areas in September 2011 and again in May-June 2012. The bryophyte surveys were carried out in March 2012. A total of 143 aquatic and 24 terrestrial invertebrates were recorded from the seepages themselves and a further 221 species were recorded by sweep netting the surrounding area. Nine Red Data Book, two IUCN Near Threatened and twenty-eight Nationally Scarce species were recorded.
Listed below are the species of conservation concern recorded in the Lyme Regis area during the 2011 / 12 surveys:
Red Data Book: Aphaniosoma socium, Odontomyia ornate, Stratiomys longicornis, Platycephala umbraculata, Libellula fulva, Cylindera germanica, Limonia goritiensis, Orimarga virgo.
IUCN Near Threatened: Eubria palustris, Syntormon mikii, Forficula lesnei, Conocephalus discolour, Platycleis albopunctata, Tetrix ceperoi, Plectrocnemia brevis, Microvelia pygmaea, Agabus melanarius, Cercyon depressus, Ochthebius auriculatus, Ochthebius nanus, Heterocerus flexuosus, Heterocerus fossor, Gonomyia conoviensis, Limonia stigmatica, Thaumastoptera calceata, Odontomyia tigrina, Oxycera pygmaea, Vanoyia tenuicornis, Hercostomus plagiatus, Syntormon spicatus, Psacadina verbekei, Tetanocera punctifrons, Elachiptera pubescens, Lipara rufitarsis, Oscinella angustipennis, Odynerus melanocephalus, Nomada fucata.
Nationally Scarce: Marpissa nivoyi.
Link to Lyme Regis Invertebrate Survey.
Link to Lyme Regis Bryophyte Survey.
Boyce, DC (2002). A review of seepage invertebrates in England. Report No: 452. English Nature, Northminster House, Peterborough, PE1 1UA.
Link to information on Buglife’s other freshwater projects.