Even though I arrived a little bit late (car trouble – soz everyone) 26 people were all waiting patiently and enjoying the hot Saturday afternoon sun on Marine Parade.
Descending the concrete steps to the beach we stopped halfway down to compare the vegetation on both sides of the path. On the left cliff face leading up to the street nutrient-rich loving species like False Oat-grass, Hogweed and Broad-leaved Dock leading on into a vast scramble of Bramble, whilst on the right a peninsula where the soil is nutrient-poor and there were low growing plants of Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Cat’s-ear, Rough Hawkbit, and Yarrow.
From the bottom of the path we crossed to the cliff edge opposite to look at Wild Carrot, the locally rare Small Scabious and then everyone tasted a leaf of Salad Burnet (Hmmm….ooooh, hang on….don’t tell me – oh errrr it’s….*pause*….thoughtful look….*pause* “Is it cucumber?” “Yes”).
Round the corner we went to note that here the cliff goes directly to the beach edge with very little by the way of typical sand dune grasses inbetween, although we did find the odd bit of Sand Couch and the glaucous blue-leaved Lyme-grass. It was interesting to see the largish leaves of Colt’s-foot scattered across the cliff in the bare soil areas where there had been a landslip; colt’s-foot flowers are like yellow dandelions and appear earlier in the year before the leaves so the two aren’t always connected as the same plant and it spreads by underground stolons which sprout leaves again when snapped much like a dandelion root does.
We then proceeded to troop in single file in a zig-zag fashion up the side of the cliff to look at one of the few sites in the area where Grass-of-Parnassus grows (sadly not flowering) with the almost undetectable Marsh Arrow-grass in full flower, Common Spotted-orchid, Northern Marsh Orchid, the hybrid between the two, and a single flower spike of another orchid, the green flowered Common Twayblade, before carefully clambering back down the cliff face. As one lady said at the end of the walk “I’ve lived here sixty years and never seen some of those flowers”…well that’s possibly because for sixty years you had more sense than to walk up an almost vertical cliff-face…
The community of wildflowers on the cliff face along here is very like that of old unploughed meadows – very diverse and full to bursting with flower in the summer and all the attendant bees and insects – because it has never been ploughed, fertilized or treated with herbicides.
We also stopped to see the tiny blue flowers of common milkwort (also available in pale blue and purple elsewhere on the cliff-face) and nearby the delicate seeds of Quaking-grass both next to a large patch of Sea Rocket growing in the sand just inside a small cove, before going on along the beach to a patch of cliff where the grass was grazed short by rabbits and masses of Pyramidal Orchids were flowering. Fortunately the orchids grew almost down to the beach so no climbing was necessary this time and we could admire them on mass and also close-up; a beautiful way to end the walk.