17 June 2013

Penclawdd copperworks slag boulders

These local saltmarsh landmarks, might at first sight seem an unpromising habitat for the botanist, but they support a surprising diversity of plants, with 44 species of vascular plant and 21 bryophytes having been recorded there. It seems a few species have disappeared since the late Tony Lewis recorded species including Small Cudweed (Filago minima), Rock Sea-spurrey (Spergularia rupicola) and Knotted Hedge-parsley (Torilis nodoia) in 2001; however this was at a time before the land around the sewage works was restored and it's likely these species were not confined to the boulders. I could not refind any of these species during a visit last week, but did note Bird's-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus) was still present. Additionally, Yellow Crisp-moss (Tortella flavovirens) was frequent and in 2012 Sam Bosanquet recorded the liverwort Capitate Notchwort (Lophozia excisa) among other more frequent calcifuge species, with Woodsy Thyme-moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum) on the nearby slag ridge.
Bird's-foot is just about hanging on with only a couple of plants noted.
Moss rich turf on top of the slag blocks, with Juniper Haircap, Bristly
Haircap (P. piliferum) and  Heath  Star Moss (Campylopus introflexus)
Around the base of the blocks there was some Sea Wormwood (Artemisia maritima) along with larger quantities of Greater Sea-spurrey (Spergularia media), some plants being affected by a white rust, kindly identified by Nigel Stringer as Albugo lepigoni (=caryophyllacearum). The boulders have a lot of lichen cover which may be worth investigating.
Pustules of Albugo lepigoni on Greater Sea-spurrey at Penclacwydd
WWT the previous day, also noted at Penclawdd today.
There is also occasional ornithological interest with Green Woodpecker, Wheatear, Black Redstart and Water Pipit among the list species noted there. On spring tides the boulders frequently become islands surrounded by seawater and have attracted birds such as Common Sandpiper, Little Egret and Black-headed Gull. I suspect Rock Pipits may breed there as a pair were alarming when I was present and a Pied Wagtail was singing constantly.

Although, the mining and steel industry has destroyed much habitat in the region, it has also left us with some surprisingly diverse and valuable habitats, some with their own unique charm as well as biological richness. It is important we recognise the value of our brownfield heritage and retain at least some of the more interesting examples of South Wales' industrial legacy.

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