Thursday, 4 May 2017

Botanising on the Gower

As I mentioned in my previous post I've had a couple of trips still to write-up from my two outings to Swansea where Daughter 2 is studying. Now during the first trip at the start of April there was absolutely nothing worth stopping off for on the bird front and I was all set to give up and not bother stopping anywhere at all when I discovered that there is some rather good botanising to be had on the Gower peninsula. There's even a plant, Yellow Whitlow Grass, which in this country is only found along a ten mile stretch of the Gower coast line. What's more, Yellow Whitlow Grass flowers early, from March through to the end of April, so it would seem to be an ideal target for my trip. I'd only learnt about it at the last minute so I hadn't had time to do much research but it seemed to like Limestone cliffs and as (according to some last minute Googling) there'd been a guided walk to see it at Port Eynon on the peninsula I thought that I'd start there. I asked my daughter whether she wanted to be picked up first and come with me or whether she'd prefer to be picked up afterwards and she opted to tag along with me.

The weather was gorgeously sunny as we made our way along the roads leading to the Point. As I had no real idea where to go, I parked up at the main car park and then we just ambled along the shoreline as we headed south, looking for things of interest. We had our packed lunch on the beach before decided to head off towards the cliffs themselves. I had a hunch from what little I knew of Yellow Whitlow Grass that it might favour the cliff area and we even did some scrambling along the rather steep cliff face in our search for it but to no avail.

The Limestone cliffs at Port-Eynon Point

The Gorse-covered slopes
To be honest it didn't really matter too much that we couldn't find it. After all, I'd never even heard of this plant until the day before and there would be other opportunities to look for it after I'd had a chance to do more background research first. In the mean time there were lots of other plants to look at: nothing too out of the ordinary but I was just enjoying the beautiful weather and the great coastal scenery.


Common Dog Violet

Danish Scurygrass

Kidney Vetch

Marsham's Nomad Bee
Portland Spurge
Spring Squill
White Stonecrop
We spent quite some time rummaging around the plants in the area but eventually it was time to go so we headed back to the car, picking up ice creams at the local café before we drove back to Swansea and then onward toward home.


The return leg was at the end of April and in the mean time I'd had a chance to do some research. It turned out that Yellow Whitlow Grass was most easily found at Pennard Castle, an old ruin on a spectacular cliff view-point, where it grew on the castle walls itself. In the days leading up to the trip there had actually been some bird action en route with, for example, some Black-winged Stilts at Slimbridge. However, all possible target birds had gone by the time my trip was scheduled so in the end I decided just to concentrate on going to Pennard Castle itself to see if I could find any of this plant still in flower.

This time my daughter wasn't interested in coming along so I dropped her off at her student house and then drove the relatively short distance to Parkmill. Here I turned off down a very bumpy single track road where I parked up near to the sandy dunes that make up the golf course and then walked the relatively short distance over to where the castle was located, taking snaps of any interesting flora on the way.

Wild Fennel

An old World War 2 water tower that's still standing at the side of the dunes
I think that this is actually a hybrid between Common and Sticky Storksbill

The ruins of Pennard Castle

The view from the castle was stunning - this photo doesn't really do it justice
There were loads of plants nestled in amongst the old castle stones. There were all the usual wall-loving plants apart from one which I realised from my research had to be the Yellow Whitlow Grass though it was no longer in flower

Maidenhair Spleenwort

Navelwort, just coming into flower
Rusty-back Fern

Yellow Whitlow Grass, sadly no longer in flower
I spent some time rummage through all the plants that were growing in the walls. Finally on the last wall that I searched, a directly south-facing one, I found a couple of specimens of Yellow Whitlow Grass that were actually still in flower.

Yellow Whitlow Grass, still just in flower
Pleased with having found my target species I sat down to have my packed lunch and to enjoy the scenery though the weather was a bit more iffy than my last visit and it soon started to rain. This was my cue to leave so I headed back to the car and then back along the familiar M4 route towards Oxford.

Despite my prior misgivings, my two trips to the Gower had turned out to be rather enjoyable. No doubt as I get more clued up on the botany front I'll start to learn more what the local specialities are but at present I'm happy to wander around in a rather haphazard fashion, stumbling across various plants as I go. It's rather nice to have this botanical interest as another strand to my fascination in the natural world. It gives me yet another excuse to explore different parts of the country and to marvel at nature in all its forms. On a practical note, it also gives me something to do when there's no birdage to be had. There's a benefit to diversification!

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