Nature ReservesThe main habitats present are:
La Société Guernesiaise owns a relatively large area of land at Pleinmont, and leases a large field (the BBC Field) within this site. Sometimes wind-swept, sometimes drenched in sea-spray, often sunny, this could be considered by many as one of the “wilder” parts of our island. The mosaic of habitats within the nature reserve makes it one of our most interesting and valuable sites.
These areas consist of thick Gorse, Bramble and Bracken. They provide important sheltering and nesting sites for many bird species, including the Dartford Warbler. Invertebrates and small mammals also benefit from this scrub. However, it can become invasive and the management of the area includes a programme of cutting, to clear paths and patches, to increase diversity. In particular, it is hoped to increase the area of maritime heath, which the Gorse has encroached upon in recent years. You may notice a large red and black ant foraging in trails here and in other habitats in the area. This is the Black-backed Wood Ant Formica pratensis, a large 'wood ant' which, although widespread across Europe, is declining across the whole of its range. In the UK it has only been recorded from a small area around Bournemouth and Wareham in Dorset but has not been seen there since 1988. It resembles the more common southern wood ant Formica rufa. The thorax shows some red colouration, but generally this species is much darker than its related species. The abdomen is dark brown to black and the whole insect is covered in fine hairs.
Arable strip fields
These small narrow, fields, divided by low banks, are the last remains in the island of the ancient method of farming by strip cultivation. La Société has been attempting something of an experiment here by cultivating them in rotation. One strip has been sown with a bird seed mix, one is continuing with its bird seed mix from last year, and one is remaining fallow. This system has been monitored over the years, and so far results have been mixed. You may notice, for example, that many “weeds” have arisen, however, this is desirable in terms of bird food and was intended, as many arable weeds are threatened in the island. The numbers of seed feeding insects have increased enormously, and this must be good for birds.
Apart from the area around Fort Doyle in the north, the only remaining small patches of maritime heath occur on the cliffs. At Pleinmont an area is kept cut for the occasional use by model aeroplane enthusiasts and the paragliding club. This has stopped scrub encroachment, and some of the special heathland flora can still be found here such as Lousewort, Yellow Bartsia and Common Milkwort, as well as the main component of this habitat, Bell Heather and Ling.
La Société recently acquired an area of cliff around the headland just south of the scramble track. At the top is thin soil with outcroppings of L'Erée granite. As one proceeds down towards the sea the rocks become too steep to support larger plants, but they are an important substrate for lichens. Lichens only thrive in unpolluted atmospheres, and we are fortunate to see many species over large areas of our coasts. Zonation of the different species can clearly be seen on these cliffs, with a black band at the bottom near the sea (Verrucaria) a yellow band above this (Caloplaca and Xanthoria) and greyish lichens, such as the pendulous Ramalinas, above this. At the bottom of the cliffs the very rare Prostrate Asparagus grows in clefts in the rocks or in the shallow soil. Sea Purslane also grows here away from its usual salt-marsh habitat. It can stand the incessant soaking with salt sea spray during gales in the winter.
The field known as the BBC field, with the radio-mast, has not been used intensively for many years, i.e. it has not been cultivated, and no chemicals have been applied. The south part still shows signs of added nutrients with patches of nettles and Dock, but the north of the field has finer grasses and many of the small wildflowers characteristic of our coastal grassland such as Early Forget-me-not, Tormentil, Trailing St John's Wort and Sea Mouse-ear . In the Spring it is covered in Wild Bluebells, turning it blue, and in the Autumn there are several species of brightly coloured Waxcap fungi, which are indicators of undisturbed short grassland. The very north and west edges of the field have coastal heath vegetation.
Amongst the short turf around the cliff face one can find Channel Island rarities such as Sand Crocus and Dwarf Pansy . The small pockets of soil in the rocky areas provide a habitat for many colourful wild flowers such as Thrift, Sea Campion, Autumn Squill, Stonecrop, Marguerites, Sheep's Bit and Prostrate Broom. The main threat to these is the invasive Hottentot Fig, which will smother them. We will therefore try to reduce or eliminate this plant when it is found in this area Large numbers of insects are found in this habitat. Amongst the special ones are Glanville Fritillaries which are common and the black caterpillars with red heads can be found throughout the year except when the butterflies are flying in May and June. The Blue winged grasshopper also occurs here but is commoner further east along the cliffs.
The whole of the headland is a wonderful place to see wild birds, as migrant species stop over to feed. Large numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch can be seen in autumn. In summer Linnets, Whitethroats, Dartford Warblers and Stonechats are present.
Access There are three large car-parks in the area, and the cliff path passes along the north west boundary, whilst the small roads La Rue du Chemin le Roi and Rue des Plains are not too busy and pleasant to walk along. Everyone is welcome to walk through the paths cut into the scrub, indeed it is probably beneficial for you to do so. Guided walks around the area can be arranged by contacting the Guernsey Biological Records Centre.
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Candie Gardens, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 1UG, Channel Islands.