Our Limestone Cliffs of the South Gower Coast - A Riddle rapped in an Enigma
Magnificent limestone sea cliffs covered for the most part in acidic heathland vegetation. A riddle that can be explained by their geological history, where the late glacial period has left deeper acidic soil deposits on top of the limestone.
And with these contrasting calcareous and acidic habitats in very close proximity comes a selection of some of the rarest and in some cases most endangered flowering plants in Britain.
The floristic year starts in March with the flowering of the Yellow Whitlow Grass (Draba azoides) a mainly montane plant with an Alpine-Pyrenean pattern of distribution in Europe which is only found on our Gower cliffs in Britain.
Spring and early summer bring a mass of colourful flowers on the thin calcareous soils including the nationally scarce Hoary Rockrose (Helianthemum oelandicum) to compare with its Common Rockrose (Helianthemum nummularium) cousin.
The quantity of flowers begins to fade in high summer as flowers set seed but which allows the endangered Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos) to flourish on the short turf limestone headlands.
Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos)
Together with the scarce Spiked Speedwell (Veronica spicata) bursting through the scrub.
August and September are inclined to bring the drier weather browning off the vegetation on the shallow calcareous soils but the purples of the bell heath come into play on the heathland.
And from late September through to November our last vulnerable flower the Goldilocks Aster (Aster linosyris) comes into its own on the vegetated scree slopes.
This combination of species on one site makes out Gower Coast nature reserves one of our richest sites for our Welsh flora. Let us hope they continue so for the next fifty years, as they have for the previous half century we have managed them.