WWCT carries out research into the ecology and genetics of rare whitebeams in Devon.
Whitebeams are attractive trees, so called for the characteristic white backs to the leaves. They produce clusters of red or orange fruit in the autumn. They belong to the genus Sorbus which comprises approximately 40 species native to Britain.
Devon has eight such species and is one of the richest counties in Britain for whitebeams, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. The whitebeams of Devon are of interest to biologists and geneticists as they provide evidence of a continuing evolutionary process which gives rise to new species.
They are mostly found in coastal areas where steep woodlands and rocky slopes provide varying habitats for all eight local species. Some are more tolerant of shade and are found primarily in the oak woodlands at Watersmeet, where the numbers appear to be stable although research is underway to determine the best management for a sustainable population. The species that prefer open rocky sites are at risk from rockfalls but this same threat also maintains an open landscape which seems to enable regeneration to occur.