Making the Small Things Count

  • Contributor information: CNP

Alison Smith, project manager of ‘Make the Small Things Count’ which won our 2014 Park Protector Award explores the wonders of life close-up.

Plantlife has been working in close partnership with Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, as well as the Quantocks and North Devon Coast AONBs, to celebrate the ‘small things’ – the lichens, mosses and liverworts, for which the area is internationally important. The Make the Small Things Count project, funded by the Heritage Lottery, has opened people’s eyes to a whole new world, and helped shape future conservation of lower plants in the region. The project has also been supported by the Campaign for National Parks, receiving a £2000 Park Protector award in 2014.



Nominations for the Campaign for National Parks  2016 Park Protector Awards are now open until Sunday 3 July! Don’t miss your chance to get a £2000 grant – ENTER NOW!

The woods on the South West moors and coast receive higher than average rainfall throughout the year and warmer temperatures due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, making these ‘Atlantic woodlands’ moist and humid and giving rise to their name of ‘temperate rainforests’. They are particularly rich in lichens, mosses and liverworts that thrive in these conditions, and the South West is internationally important for many species and communities. Both Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks are designated as Important Plant Areas (IPAs)  for their lower plant richness. Lower plants make up a significant portion of Atlantic woodland biodiversity, and play an important ecological role, yet their small size means they often go unnoticed. They also face many threats including habitat loss, lack of woodland grazing and climate change.

The wonder of life close-up

Working with our partners in the National Parks and AONBs, the world of lichens and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) has been opened up to more than 90,000 people including schools, educators, volunteers and land managers from across the region. The reaction of wonder, when someone looks down a hand lens for the first time at a lichen or moss is always the same, regardless of age or experience.

“How much more there is to see under a magnifier…I have now become a moss-spotter, a lichen lover and a fern friend.”

You can get up close to the South West’s lichens using our self-guided lower plant walks on Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Quantocks and North Devon coast. The walk guides can be downloaded from our webpage along with our lichen and bryophyte ID guides and other educational resources.



Lichen apprentices

A major barrier for conserving lichens is that fewer and fewer people have the skills to identify them. Lichens are often considered one of the harder taxa to get to grips with, and they are not technically plants, being in fact two organisms (a fungus and a photosynthetic partner such as an alga or cyanobacterium), which live in a symbiotic relationship. Working with the British Lichen Society, we ran a lichen apprenticeship scheme across Dartmoor and Exmoor, which provided in-depth training and mentoring in lichen ID to thirty people across the region. The apprentices began with little or no prior knowledge but are now contributing to county recording and inspiring others to take a closer look at what’s growing on the forest floors, boulders and tree trunks around them.

Conserving Atlantic woodland

We have also worked closely with those managing Atlantic woodland, delivering a series of workshops in lower plant ID and how to manage Atlantic woodland for lower plants. More than 100 land managers and ecologists have been trained from key organisations such as the National Parks, AONBs, National Trust and Forestry Commission as well as private land owners, who together manage the bulk of Atlantic woodland in the region.  Land managers have said they now feel more confident managing their woods for lichens and bryophytes, and Plantlife is continuing to support this work. 

You can find out more about Make the Small Things Count and access educational resources, ID guides, walk guides and our woodland management handbook by visiting our webpage.