Sunday, 28 October 2012

Breakwater Country Park, Anglesey

During the last couple of weekends I have been surveying the Breakwater Country Park on the outskirts of Holyhead. Stuck between the grimy degeneration of the port town and the hilly lump of Holyhead Mountain,  the country park consists of an area of coastal heath and a number of scrubbed over old quarry workings. The contorted Precambrian rock was quarried in the mid Nineteenth century and transported a mile or so along the coast by rail to contribute to the building of  Holyhead Breakwater. Later a brickworks was built on the floor of the abandoned quarry, still later this too was abandoned leaving the area to dog walkers and duck fanciers.

My visits, being in October, were too late in the season to encounter many plants at their best. The Genista anglica (Petty Whin) among the grassy heath atop the low cliffs had gone to pod. The previously confusing Dactylorhiza species were also nothing more than dessicated spires. Despite this I saw a handful of things of interest, both dead and alive. 

While recording relevés of coastal heath I came across a familiar species typical of the habitat but looking nothing like it had on any of my previous encounters with it. Scilla verna (Spring Squill) is a small plant that now, post APG III, belongs to the family Asparagaceae. Growing exclusively on salt-sprayed sea cliffs its small blue flowers emerge in spring and somewhat resemble a small bluebell. I had know it would be frequent on the site but had suspected that I may miss it due to the season but its delicate seed pods, once noticed were everywhere. Later, when crawling around examining mosses growing on bare peat on a skeletal area of heath I came across the other end of the squill's cycle. Tiny succulent green shoots poking up from the peat readying themselves for the spring.   

Scilla verna open seed pods with seed
Breakwater Country Park, October 2012

Scilla verna shoot
Breakwater Country Park, October 2012

A flushed and overhung area of tumbledown soft cliff  a little further along the coast supported a range of mossy cushions and wefts. Among these was the plain coastal pleurocarp Drepanocladus polygamus. Not an uncommon species but, as I am still a relative novice with regard to bryology, a new species for me. 

Drepanocladus polygamus Breakwater Country Park, October 2012 (N.B. while specimens of this species from this site were confirmed
microscopically the plant in the picture was not and therefore
I can not say with 100% certainty that it is this species)

One species very noticeable for its malodorous bloom during my visits was the ivy. At once one of the most universally recognised species and one that, in this case, has only recently come to 'exist'. Nearly all of the ivy in the west of the British Isles was relatively recently (1990) recognised as a different species, Hedera hibernica. Despite having now been understood for over two decades this species is still mostly ignored. See  the 1990 paper by McAllister & Rutherford in the journal Watsonia for details of the differentiation between H. hibernica and H. helix.            

Hedera hibernica flowers
Breakwater Country Park, October 2012 

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) caterpillar
Breakwater Country Park, October 2012  

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