Month seven of my photographer’s nature journal.
It is frightening how quickly the year is passing by. The lanes around me have been well and truly scythed to the ground. It does make it easier to see around corners and find the passing places without fear of crashing into a stone wall, but I could weep at seeing the destruction on the hedgerow shrubs, the naked bark just hacked by the shovel of the tractor. The cascading honeysuckle ripped away. At least the cow parsley and wild carrot should have had time to disperse their seeds.
So turning my eyes away from the lanes I set out once more to discover what the cliff tops of Cornwall could offer me. This time the north coast not so far from Newquay, the hotspot of 1950s and 1960s childhood beach holidays which later became a mecca of hen and stag and 16-18 school-leavers parties. More recently it has begun to clean up its act and revert to a surfers’ town and one for families to enjoy. West Pentire south of the town is home to Crantock beach, Polly Joke beach and Holywell beach – with its soaring dunes pretty familiar to any Poldark viewer.
I have wanted to visit this region to capture the vision of wild poppies and corn marigolds blooming among the arable fields, but I left it too late. Next year it is on my calendar for June and I shall go every week until I see this spectacle.
Although disappointed that I had missed the poppies and corn marigolds, I had timed my visit to get onto the beaches at low tide. First a walk down to Polly Joke as it is locally named (Porth Joke), but this post is not about the walk, or the beaches, they will come soon I promise. This is about the diversity of the land I discovered along this headland.
West Pentire has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK. The most diverse part of arable fields
is usually the field edges where crop seed is not sown. Environmentally friendly farmers leave a margin around their fields (called a Wildlife Strip or Conservation Headland) where they don’t spray pesticides or fertilisers. This encourages wild plants to grow. Because the plants provide food for invertebrates such as ground beetles and spiders, which are predators of crop pests such as aphids, there is less need to spray crops with pesticides. This is turn provides food for the skylarks, yellowhammers and lapwings which in turn are hunted by Buzzards and Harriers.
I did see skylarks, I even attempted a photo or two, but they fly very fast and just rise vertically out of the field in an instant.
The skylark is Wordsworth’s ‘ethereal minstrel,’ and Shelley’s ‘blithe spirit‘, while John Clare proposes we ‘listen to its song, and smile and fancy’: the song of the skylark has inspired more poets than any other.
Leaving the fields behind I headed downhill to the beach where coastal plants are to be found. Some I recognise, others I don’t.
I regret not taking closer photos of the Sea Spurge. The stems are slightly fleshy and glaucous – nice word – meaning bluish-grey or green. And their cup-shaped flower heads are astonishingly beautiful. Next time.
I then drove to the sand dunes (Towans) of Holywell bay and discovered more species of coastal plants. Clustered around the tiny river (more of a stream) I recognised Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet) because it grows in my garden. It looks so pretty next to the water.
I also recognise some sort of Allium plant, though not one I know. It is very similar to some chives that I grow, though much, much taller. I later find out it is Babington’s Leek (Allium ampeloprasum) a native perennial herb which grows up to 2 metres.
On the sand dunes themselves I stumbled across a patch of Sea Holly. The most beautiful form simply growing in the sand.
Just admire the shape and texture of those leaves. I am beginning to find photographing wild flowers more interesting than cultivated ones. They are not always in good condition and not always easy to capture being hidden amongst other plants, but it is fascinating to discover so many species.
And of course I cannot leave this post without a closer look at the Marram grass which covers much of our coastline. It has tightly rolled, sharply pointed grey-green leaves, and produces large spikes of cream or pale yellow flowers in June. As a coastal plant, it is very tolerant of salt and sea spray, and grows in sand or very free-draining soil. It helps prevent erosion of sandy soil.