Up the Orme

Why the north Welsh headland is one of Britain's best botanical landscapes

September 22 2015 - 13:45

It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and I’m on a train heading north towards Llandudno. Such an early start is a real joy because this journey is taking me to the Great Ormes Head, one of the 24 Important Plant Areas (IPAs) in Wales. My predecessor, Dr. Trevor Dines, said I would fall in love with the place and he wasn’t wrong. Just ten months ago I made my first ever visit here and wondered at its beauty, the setting and its grasslands and heathlands, although admittedly they were not at their best in November!

The Great Ormes Head is identified as an IPA because it contains some of the largest and potentially best species rich limestone grasslands in the UK. It’s also home to our only native cotoneaster, the Great Orme Berry Cotoneaster cambricus. The range of species found here is amazing from the early flowering and reclusive Hutchinsia, Hornungia petraea, to the magnificent Dark Red Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine (below, © Chris Channon).

As well as being an IPA it’s also a Special Area for Conservation, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Local Nature Reserve and contains a National Nature Reserve with the marvellous name of Maes y Facrell meaning ‘field of mackerel’!

The reason for my journey today extends back to 2001 and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The grazier of the Great Ormes Head at that time had to restrict the movement of his flock of sheep, gathering them from across the Orme and confining them to the walled enclosure of Parc Farm – a large farm on the top of the Orme. It was the beginning of the end of a shepherded flock grazing the wider grasslands, as the farmer found them to be much more manageable when restricted to the enclosed farmland of the summit. 

Above: Welsh goats grazing on the Orme. © Paul's Imaging Company

Moving forward to 2014 and I started to understand the Orme better through Conwy County Borough Councils’ Warden, Sally Pidcock who has worked there for 16 years. A call from Sally in March this year revealed that Parc Farm was being put up for sale by the current owner. This was a hugely important opportunity. Since the foot and mouth outbreak much of the Orme has become severely undergrazed with threats to some of its botanical interest. This was a chance to try and resolve the shepherding of livestock on the site as Parc Farm owns all the grazing rights to the 292 hectares of unenclosed land on the Great Orme. Within a few weeks, myself and others at Plantlife put a strong case together to convince the National Trust to consider taking it on given its botanical importance – it must surely be one of the top five sites for plants in Britain. 

Fortunately their offer was accepted and a whole new chapter for the Great Orme is now opening up with Plantlife Cymru playing a key role in working with the National Trust to improve the condition of the grasslands and heathlands and to address the opportunity of a site visited by 600,000 people each year.

Above: Great Orme. © Ashley Perkins

So today is the first partnership meeting where all those organisations with an interest will meet and try and come up with proposals to be incorporated in a future management plan. It’s going to be a long day, as I won’t get home till 10 pm, but it will be tremendously fulfilling!


  • Jamie G
    September 25 2015 - 18:43

    I saw a piece about this on Countryfile - I was wondering what sort of grazing regime would be introduced onto the land and the stocking density? As a land management student, I also wondered how it will be ensured it isn’t overgrazed to the detriment of the plants? Thanks

  • Michele Thomas
    September 27 2015 - 17:07

    How lucky are you?! Fantastic blog post.

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