PLANS to protect a rare plant that grows on Dawlish Warren have been stepped up.

Petalwort, a protected type of liverwort, is only found in seven sites across England, and its prevalence at Dawlish is the focus for a multi-authority habitat team.

The South and East Devon Habitat Regulations Committee, which has members from East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council and Teignbridge District Council, heard that nature experts recommend a two-pronged approach to help improve the prognosis of petalwort.

A report for the committee said the outlook for the plant at Dawlish is ‘very poor’ without an extensive programme to better manage conditions where it grows, and to find areas to move parts of some of the plants through a process known as translocation.

It suggested creating new habitats in the Greenland Lake slack where the petalwort is found, as well as encouraging growth elsewhere.

A first attempt to move some petalwort west of Dawlish’s visitor centre was described as ‘seemingly now unsuccessful’, but it was hoped future attempts would have better luck.

Rangers who help oversee this work secured funding last year from Natural England to pay for relocating some of the petalwort, but delays in getting consent at Natural England mean the bid has had to be resubmitted.

Councillor Martin Wrigley (Liberal Democrat, Dawlish North East), leader of Teignbridge District Council, welcomed the analysis of the petalwort population and the work rangers do to protect and encourage its growth.

But he felt the reports in front of the committee were too narrow in focus.

He said: 'A fundamental concern about this is that we re not reacting and responding to the things we are seeing and learning as the facts change.

‘There is no mention here at all that a significant and material change has happened in the plans for Dawlish Warren since the last meeting, notably that the Environment Agency has now said it will not remove the geotube on the warren until 2050.’

The so-called geotube, a 460-metre long defence buried in the dunes to protect them, was completed in October 2017, and under initial plans might have been removed this decade.

‘That’s a fundamental change,’ Cllr Wrigley added, ‘It is still going to happen, but what we need to know now is how that change impacts our strategy in terms of petalwort and its relocation.

‘We’re not reacting to events that are happening around us.’

Cllr Geoff Jung (Liberal Democrat, Woodbury and Lympstone), East Devon’s portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, sympathised with Cllr Wrigley’s view, but hoped the latest report, that included an idea of the prevalence and health of the petalwort, would be a good base to work from.

He said:’We have to know what is going on and what we are going to do about any changes in the wider environment.

‘We now have a base line and hopefully in a few years we’ll know whether we have had success or failure.

‘Protecting nature and helping the Exe Estuary wildlife is a critical issue.’