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Restoring limestone grassland (Great Orme, north Wales)
The Great Orme is a vast limestone headland on the north Wales coast. Surrounded on three sides by sea and bathed in sunshine, the Great Orme has an exceptionally mild climate which, combined with the lime-rich rock, make it one of the top five sites for rare plants in Britain.
An unprecedented number of native wild flowers – 360 species in all – grow here and nearly 20 of these are nationally rare and threatened, including the Great Orme Berry (Cotoneaster cambricus) that occurs nowhere else in the world. There’s an abundance of rare lichens and mosses too, all of which mean the Great Orme is recognised internationally as an Important Plant Area. This diversity supports a host of other wildlife, such as unique subspecies of silver-studded blue and grayling butterflies, as well birds such as chough.
But since 2001, following the foot and mouth outbreak, sheep have been restricted to small enclosed areas of farmland and grazing over the Orme’s wilder unenclosed landscape has declined. As a result large areas have become dominated by thick grass and shrubs such as blackthorn and invasive non-native cotoneaster. Without action, this undergrazing will threaten many of the Orme’s special flowers.
In 2016, the National Trust purchased Parc Farm on the summit of the Orme, and with it the grazing rights to nearly 300 hectares of the surrounding wild landscape. Plantlife are purchasing a flock of over 400 sheep for the Trust’s new shepherd to target grazing in priority areas.
- Purchase a flock of over 400 sheep, allowing the National Trust’s shepherd to target grazing in priority areas
- Restore limestone grassland habitat by controlling the growth of vigorous grasses and scrub
- Help control the spread of invasive non-native Cotoneasters with increased grazing
- Allow the special flowers and invertebrates found on the Great Orme to flourish again
Great Orme Berry (Cotoneaster cambricus)
Our only native Cotoneaster, there are just six original wild bushes of this little gem left in the world. Many other plants have been raised from seed and cuttings and some of these are planted out on the Orme to bolster the population (if you want to see it, there is one in the wildflower garden at the visitor centre on the summit). This species is vulnerable to grazing from a feral population of Kashmir goats and from invasive non-native cotoneasters, which get a foothold in the same little pockets of soil on the limestone cliffs. Photo © Trevor Dines/Plantlife.
Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos)
The beautiful purple-blue flowers of this little annual plant are produced throughout the summer. In Wales, it grows only on the Great Orme and several places on the south coast, such as the Gower peninsula. It grows on lime-rich soil in open places where its seeds can germinate and it cannot tolerate competition from dense grass. A factsheet is available for this species. Photo © Tim Wilkins/Plantlife.
Hoary Rockrose (Helianthemum oelandicum subsp. incanum)
This little rockrose, which produces carpets of tiny flowers in late spring above mats of silvery foliage, grows in just a handful of sites in Wales. Its diminutive size makes it vulnerable to undergrazing and the encroachment of vigorous grass. In many places on the Great Orme, it is now confined to the rockiest ledges where the grass is thin. Photo © Trevor Dines/Plantlife.
Spiked Speedwell (Veronica spicata)
It’s always a surprise to find the stunning flowers of Spiked Speedwell in the wild – they look more like a garden plant than a native wildflower. But they are native, and grow in a handful of sites in Wales, especially on limestone along the north coast. The purple-blue spikes of flowers appear in late summer and the plant thrives in well-grazed grassland. Photo © Trevor Dines/Plantlife.
How's it going?
Parc Farm, a small productive farm on the summit of the Great Orme, comes up for sale in March along with grazing rights to 292 hectares of the surrounding unenclosed landscape, where all of the wildflower interest is found.
With advice from Plantlife, the National Trust purchase the farm and in September formed a partnership with ourselves and other organisations to help manage the Great Orme.
In September and October, Colin Cheesman (Head of Plantlife Cymru) and Dan Jones (National Trust) scour the autumn livestock markets to buy a flock of over 400 sheep, purchased wholly with the support of Plantlife members.
In October, there's great excitement as the first 295 Lleyn sheep – a native breed from the nearby Lleyn peninsula - arrive on the Great Orme. They will soon be joined by a small number of Herdwick sheep.