Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bewitched by Wildflowers on the Cliffs of South Gower

Tim Wilkins
Plantlife Botanist

On a recent visit to the rugged limestone cliffs the South Gower coast, I went looking for one of Britain’s rarest native wildflowers – Yellow Whitlowgrass. A perennial member of the cabbage family, at first glance it looks more like a saxifrage, with tight rosettes of fine leaves supporting sprays of bright yellow flowers.

Gower is the only place in Britain where Yellow Whitlowgrass is truly wild, somehow finding sanctuary here during the last Ice-age. Once thought to be a flower that was introduced from mainland Europe, genetic analysis has shown the Gower plants to be distinct from their cousins over the Channel and it is now considered genuinely native. A perfect choice then, for the people of Glamorgan when they voted it their County Flower.

After much clambering across screes and around outcrops I finally found my first plants nestled neatly on a rock ledge and just catching the spring sunlight – perfect! Camera in hand, I took a couple of photos:

Other remarkable plants cling to the limestone rocks or hide in crevices but are easily overlooked when passing by: the lichens, mosses and liverworts. Some species such as Blue Blister lichen and Pretty Cord-moss are protected under Welsh law because of their scarcity.

Sadly though, the habitat is far from pristine as non-native plants, principally Cotoneasters, are smothering great swathes of the coastal slope including botanically rich limestone grassland and lichen-clad rocks.

To tackle the problem, Plantlife, the National Trust, RSPB and Natural Resources Wales are joining forces under a new project to be announced later this spring.

As I left the site my heart was lifted once more as two Choughs called and twisted through the sky overhead. The perfect end to a fantastic day.

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