Watergate Bay meeting 10th March 2013 report

Apr 3, 2013 by

Watergate Bay meeting 10th March 2013 report

Watergate Bay – 10th March 2013  SW8464, SW8465, SW8565

Six hardy souls gathered at a cold and windy Watergate Bay car park (SW843648), just north of Newquay, on Cornwall’s north coast. Six was a good number considering the later forecast that day for snow and high winds! The first field meeting of 2013 was also a chance for Colin French to try out a ruggedized laptop onto which he had loaded the ERICA database – the one that is used in Cornwall for botanical records – and aimed to try out entering records as we recorded. Colin had recently applied and was successful in getting a grant from OPAL

for local recording groups such as the Botanical Cornwall Group to make biological recording quicker. He had said he had trialled it a few times and found that using it means that there is no need to enter records after the meeting, thus reducing time laboriously entering records – the bane of any recorder’s life!

We set off at 10am and walked around the large grassy field which doubled as a car park, but despite the many emerging flowers of Japanese Butterbur (Petasites japonicus) near the stream, nothing of great interest was seen. The small valley inland from the car park is part of the St Mawgan airfield (signs warned us of security response if we ventured in!) so we were not able to explore in this area so headed towards the beach past the posh new hotels and famous Fifteen Restaurant. Danish Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia danica) was well out with the very small plants in a familiar roadside habitat as well as along the cliffs, and on a small part of the cliff where it had not yet slumped was a fine colony of Sea Spleenwort (Asplenium marinum).

Asplenium marinum Watergate 10 March 2013

Asplenium marinum Watergate 10 March 2013 –
photo by Lisa Thyer

Looking towards the north along the cliffs it was evident that the Silver Ragwort (Senecio cineraria) with grey-green leaves had escaped and colonised much of the loose shaly cliffs, and there was also a large patch of Hottentot-fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a thuggish non-native plant which smothers the existing native flora. The beach was sheltered from the strong easterly wind, and was a welcome break before we ventured higher up on the wind-blasted cliff later.

Leaving the beach we walked up Trevarrian Hill into SW8465. A few garden species had become established including Beach Aster (Erigeron glaucus) and a few freshly emerging clumps of Babington’s Leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii) were also seen with the Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) growing close-by. We then returned down the hill and walked up steps to join the coastal cliff path. By the houses before the cliff were several garden escapes and we found a Beach Aster in flower, as well as Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) the leaves and leaf stalks which had become affected by the wart-like fungal rust Puccinia smyrnii which Ian said looked like something he had seen on Channel Four’s Embarrassing Bodies programme!

The cliffs on this part of Cornwall’s coast are susceptible to slumping and between Watergate Bay and Mawgan Porth there is a very narrow strip of coastal grassland or remnant heath in places. With the cliff fenced off from adjacent grazing animals the only open areas are being kept open by walkers, and it was in these parts that we saw Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) and Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum). Where the areas had not been trampled European Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) scrub has developed with some Burnet Rose (Rosa spinosissima) and where more open there was a thick mattress of Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) or Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata). A few ponies along here would help restore some of the coastal grassland but as the cliffs were precariously breaking away in places one could understand why a farmer wouldn’t want animals grazing here.

On one part of the cliff the exposed and blasted cliff edge had quite a lot of Thrift (Armeria maritima) and what appeared to be one plant of Sea Sandwort (Honkenya peploides) but this needs checking in future. Both Colin and Ian had seen salt-marsh or strandline species such as Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima), Sea-purslane (Atriplex portulacoides) and Common Saltmarsh-grass (Puccinellia maritima) on other relatively high cliff-tops (where very exposed) in other parts of the north coast of Cornwall, but not Sea Sandwort.

Further along the coast north the thin coastal strip by the footpath is very overgrown with tussocky Cock’s-foot grass and patches of European Gorse. However the slumping cliffs below which looked inaccessible looked worth exploring (with care) in future. At one spot where the rabbits had burrowed into the turfy cliff-top, leaving bare patches, we found several clumps of Sea Stork’s-bill (Erodium maritimum). On close inspection plants had already flowered: plants are usually apetalous (without petals) but sometimes have very small ones shorter than the sepals. Rather rare in the British Isles, it is frequent in suitable places around the Cornish coast.

Erodium maritimum Watergate 10 March 2013

Erodium maritimum Watergate 10 March 2013 – photo by Lisa Thyner

Further along on a small promontory, wind-blasted and with shorter turf we found a few stunted plants of Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and Heather (Calluna vulgaris) remnants of what was probably only a couple of hundred years ago a rather expansive area of coastal heath and grassland. Whilst looking in the short turf we found Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) which when records were checked later is the first time this species has been recorded in SW86 since 1980, and two very small emerging Early-purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) plants.

With the cold wind not relenting we found a path down to the upper part of the cliff which afforded some shelter and we had our picnic lunch here. Though everything was very much in winter mode the views are spectacular and the headlands at Newquay prominent to the south and the sweeping golden sands of Watergate Bay far below to the headlands of Park Head to the north. There wasn’t a lot of birdlife around but a Skylark was singing over a field inland and a Kestrel flew over.

BCG Group lunch on cliff Watergate

BCG Group lunch on cliff Watergate 10th March 2013. L to R – Dorothy Smith, Philip Maund, Ian Bennallick, Colin French and Sarah Stevens. Photographer and photo by Lisa Thyer.

After lunch we headed further north and before leaving SW8465 we headed inland along a short footpath along a Cornish Hedge topped by planted and flailed Tamarisk (Tamarix gallica) towards the road between Watergate Bay and Trevarrian.  The hedge here sheltered Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum) and Rough Chervil (Chaerophyllum temulum). Ian demonstrated how tasty Common Sorrell (Rumex acetosa) is and whilst chewing told the group that Cornish people call this plant ‘sour sabs’ (sounds like zower zabs).  However he had forgotten that the field had been spread with dung and it was likely that the more organic taste than usual was from this – it was hastily spat out! At the small road we had a choice of walking down the lane back to Watergate but Ian wanted to get to other parts of SW8465 so we decided to walk along a tarmac lane running through a campsite – and if asked what we were doing, own up and ask retrospective permission. There were no caravans or tents, and we saw nobody, and it looked like other people use this route as a shortcut. As we walked along the tarmac lane the turf either side (where people would pitch their tents or caravans) looked more interesting than the improved rye-grass leys in fields around. Unfortunately as it was early we could see no ‘interesting’ grassland plants but where there was some waterlogged ground there were some large patches of Blinks (Montia fontana), just in flower – each little white one the size of a pinhead. No fruits had been formed so we could not see what subspecies it was. We left the campsite and got onto the public road leading east to Tregurrian (SW850652) recording more Babington’s Leek and the usual non-native species so familiar with Cornish road verges – Variegated Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum), Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans), Bear’s-breech (Acanthus mollis) and Alexanders. We followed the road into and out of Tregurrian giving us chance to list for SW8565, and then down Trevarrian Hill back into SW8465. The road follows the bottom of a small stream valley down towards Watergate and there were spring-fed streams on either side of the road. Being close to the small hamlet there were lots of garden escapes with many different Narcissus cultivars, some planted some not, Spring Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum subsp. pulchellum), Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) and Italian Lords-and-Ladies (Arum italicum subsp. italicum).

Beside the stream in places were Square-stalked St John’s-wort (Hypericum tetrapterum), Water Mint (Mentha aquatica), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) and Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus). On hedges further down the road into SW8464 we found Wild Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Wild Madder (Rubia peregrina) and a bank where Sweet Violet (Viola odorata) was flowering abundantly. The status of Sweet Violet in Cornwall is uncertain. Though some sites may be native it is often found as a garden escape so muddling the overall picture. [Some flowering plants with roots were collected and sent to Mike Porter (working on a new BSBI Viola Handbook) after the meeting. Mike confirmed that they show normal characters for Sweet Violet, but had the largest flowers he had ever seen on the species]. Further along the road towards the car park we found that Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri), Hoary Stock (Matthiola incana) and Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) were all established along a scrubby road bank and also Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) which is native in some coastal parts of Cornwall, but the status here will need to be confirmed. It was recorded in 1877 for Newquay so this maybe the site of that record.

We reached the car park at 2.30pm, earlier than usual, but all were freezing cold and ready to get home in front of the fire. Overall we recorded over 170 species on the walk, some not recorded since 1991, and some were new though not a lot of the species were flowering. Using the ruggedized tablet with the ERICA database installed for recording worked well, and though it is slower initially to enter records whilst in the field, there was no need to input records after the meeting, so it may appear to be slower but in practice it frees up time later, and there is no need to re-enter records from notebooks. Colin provided me a list from the day soon after I arrived home so all he had to do was to check what had been entered and extract a list.

Ian Bennallick

Download list of species seen on the walk here

Download Sample of Book (PDF, 318KB)

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