Tag Archives: dunes

Behind the dunes…the flowers bloom

Walking along Penrhos Beach, the tall cliff of sand on your landward side gives no clue to the beautiful flowers that are blooming behind it.

At first glance, as you climb (or stagger) over the sand dune there seems to be a carpet of yellow flowers. Mainly this is made up of vetches, trefoils and bedstraws, with some beautiful acid yellow stonecrops too.

The first impression is of a carpet of yellow

The first impression is of a carpet of yellow…

Bedstraw flowers

…yellow bedstraw flowers…

Stonecrop flowers

Stonecrop flowers

But amongst all the yellows, there are lots of other colours including the pinky purples of orchids, wild liquorice (restharrow) and wild thyme.

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One of the many orchids behind the dune cliff

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Dotted amongst the yellow flowers there are several different orchids

The pink and white flowers of restharrow creep close to the ground

The pink and white flowers of restharrow creep close to the ground

Patches of wild thyme form little mats, their flowers hardly bigger than pin heads

Patches of wild thyme form little mats, their flowers hardly bigger than pin heads

The flower heads of the grasses are beautiful too, like this little sand cats tail

The flower heads of the grasses are beautiful too, like this little sand cats tail

And these beautiful pinky orange seed heads on a tiny little grass - possibly a dune fescue

And these beautiful pinky orange seed heads on a tiny little grass – possibly a dune fescue

It’s a bit of a shame when you come to the end of a beautiful walk through these flowers and arrive at one of the areas that were “improved” over the winter and spring…:(

One of the cleared areas on the edge of the dunes

One of the cleared areas on the edge of the dunes

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The great pyramids of Newborough

Mmm. That doesn’t sound quite right, and it certainly doesn’t look right!

Newborough's new pyramids

Newborough’s new pyramids

Early this spring, NRW and their contractors brought out their big toys – excavators, bulldozers and tipper trucks – to continue with their resculpting of the duneland.  These sculptures are the result of their trying to make nature do as they think she ought.

These “pyramids” have been created to the south east of the forest – at the end of the path that runs from the Marram Grass car park. They’re accompanied by a huge scrape.

This is how it looked in 2013 - the last dune before the sea at the end of the path from the Marram Grass car park

This is how it looked in 2013 – the last dune before the sea at the end of the path from the Marram Grass car park

...and this is how it looks now

…and this is how it looks now

...and the giant scrape that accompanies them

…and the giant scrape that accompanies them

It’s ironic that the work is being done to “help rare plants and insects such as … mining bees” as the area which has been trashed was a very active one for the little mining bees to burrow in and they will have been unceremoniously scraped out of their winter sleep:(

Also gone for now are the many orchids, centaury, coltsfoot and other lovely plants that made the zone so attractive to people and wildlife. Fingers crossed that it recovers soon.

A view from the forest edge

A view from the forest edge

A new beach

There are more storms still to come, but the highest tides are behind us. Penrhos Beach (the one to the west of Llanddwyn Island) has been remodelled by the elements: all the sand cliffs have been cut back and there are sand-slides all the way along.

Sand-slides slumped all along the foot of the sand-cliffs at Traeth Penrhos Beach

Sand-slides slumped all along the foot of the sand-cliffs at Traeth Penrhos Beach

A fresh sandslide: the new face of the dunes is still very unstable.

A fresh sand-slide: the fresh face of the dunes is still very unstable.

The path that used to run along the crest of the dunes now leads straight off the edge:)

The little path along the crest of the dunes now leads straight over the edge. Byddwch yn ofalus! Take care!

The little path along the crest of the dunes now leads straight over the edge. Byddwch yn ofalus! Take care!

Farewell to the forest?

Newborough forest pines at the edge of the shore

Newborough forest pines at the edge of the shore

The Forestry Commission began planting Newborough forest back in the 1940s. It is now an established and diverse forest of immense character and beauty. The forest makes a beautiful backdrop to areas of the beaches of Llanddwyn and Penrhos.

Since April of this year, the Forestry Commission (Wales) has been subsumed into Natural Resources Wales (NRW). Whereas the Forestry Commission’s mission was (and still is in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) to “protect and expand forests and woodlands” NRW’s mission is to “make the most of our natural resources”. Rather a bland and uninformative mission really. They also want to fell and then destump parts of Newborough Forest that abut the shore.

Monterey cypresses and sprawling pines at the forest edge

Monterey cypresses and sprawling pines at the forest edge

These forest edges provide some of the most atmospheric scenery at Newborough with trees sculpted by the wind and skeletal remains of dead trees that the woodpeckers love to feed on. The area abounds with wildlife: but not, on the whole, the “right” wildlife.

The reasoning on NRW’s part is that the site is not complying with the requirements of its Special Area of Conservation status: a status confirmed in 2004…when the forest had already been in existence for nearly 60 years.

A smattering of holm oaks (ever-green oaks) survive on the forest edge

A smattering of holm oaks (ever-green oaks) survive on the forest edge

It’s a sadly ironic situation that on an island that already has so little tree-cover there will soon be less.

The track along the edge of the forest and the dunes.

The track along the edge of the forest and the dunes.

 

 

 

 

Flowers of the dunes: sea holly – Eryngium maritimum

Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) is one of the most striking of the dune plants. And one of the most prickly. It used to be widely used in medicine and as candies. It was considered an aphrodisiac and a cure for many ailments including, according to Culpeper, “melancholy of the heart”:)

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eryngium maritimumThe sea hollies are just coming into flower on the dunes at Newborough. They are incredibly structural plants. In winter most of the above ground parts of the plant will die back to leave their spiky skeletons that will stand through the winter.

 

Sea spurge – Euphorbia paralias

One of the commonest plants on the dunes at Newborough is the sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias). If you see it early in the year, before it forms flowers, it looks more like a sprawling kind of stonecrop than a spurge.

Sea spurge in April

Sea spurge in April

But once the flowers have formed, it’s unmistakably spurge-like.

Sea spurge in flower

Sea spurge in flower: like many Euphorbias, it has no petals or sepals.

Flowering sea spurge (with tufts of marram grass flowers poking through)

Flowering sea spurge (with spikes of marram grass flowers poking through)

 

 

A walk to Abermenai Point

Abermenai Point is the most southerly tip of Anglesey. Sitting at the end of Braich Abermenai, a dune and shingle spit, it marks the entrance to the Menai Strait.

A walk to Abermenai Point is almost guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away. And, except for the busiest times in the summer, you can usually enjoy considerable solitude along any of the routes to the point.

If you look at an Ordnance Survey map, you will see that there are “footpaths” shown heading out across the mudflats of Traeth Abermenai, beyond the dunes of Newborough Warren. Although these paths offer the shortest routes to the point, they are within the tidal zone: you need to be very careful if you use them to make sure that you won’t get trapped by the tide.

Nevertheless, being mindful of the tides, you can make a very nice circular walk starting out from the Llyn Rhos Ddu/Marram Grass car park. From there, follow the path towards the forest for approximately half a kilometre when you will see a lane coming down from your right, and a gate into the dunes on your left.

Footpath into Newborough Warren

Footpath into Newborough Warren

Head into the dunes at this point, and keep following the marker posts all the way across the dunes – it’s very hilly! Finally, you will emerge from the dunes onto the edge of the mud flat and you can see Abermenai point ahead of you.

Post in the Abermenai mudflat looking towards Braich Abermenai

Post in the Abermenai mudflat looking towards Braich Abermenai

There are some concrete posts in the flats which can help to guide you, but they’re not official markers. There is a channel about two thirds of the way across the mud flat – depending on the state of the tide it may be nearly dry or it may be more than knee deep – but you’ll always find a way round it by going inland if you don’t want to get your feet wet.

Tidal channel Traeth Abermenai

Tidal channel Traeth Abermenai

The mud flats teem with insects, crabs and birds. At certain times of the year they are transformed into a sea of flowers.

Once you’ve crossed the channel, just keep going and you will reach Abermenai Point. There a derelict little ferry house stands alone.

The old house at Abermenai Point

The old house at Abermenai Point

On the opposite side is Fort Belan. Behind that is Caernarfon airport where two large wind turbines have recently been erected.

To complete the circuit head around to the south side of Abermenai Point and then follow the coast all the way along to the forest edge. If the tide is high, you will need to walk along the dune top rather than the shore.

Once you reach the forest edge, turn up and follow that path all the way back to the car park.

It’s about a seven mile walk altogether, but it feels longer: it warrants a picnic!

The Metoffice website shows tide times as well as the weather forecast on its Llanddwyn/Newborough page (scroll to the bottom of their page for the tide times).

Within the range of “high” and “low” tides there are, of course, very high high tides (so called springs) and very low high tides (so called neaps – from the Anglo Saxon meaning scanty or pinched). Tides at Llanddwyn that are more than 5m are pretty high. A tide that high, especially with the wind behind it, will reduce the beaches to just a slither of sand – or maybe even no beach at all.

Conversely, high tides that are less than 4.5m are low and leave plenty of beach, even when the tide is “high”.

High high tides go hand in hand with low low tides and vice versa. So, on a day when the beach disappears completely at high tide it will be huge at low tide.