Botany on the coast: Alnmouth to Boulmer

A few weeks past, a Saturday free of commitments provided a rare opportunity for a trip North. Opting for a walk on the Northumberland coast, on this occasion we headed for Alnmouth, intending to walk a few miles up the shoreline towards Boulmer, recording as we went.

Arriving at Alnmouth train station, it was interesting to note a profusion of “sweet peas” clambering through the track-side vegatation. Not something I have seen before; though with a little digging I am fairly confident the culprit was Two-flowered Everlasting-Pea. Walking through Alnmouth, we paused breifly to admire Black Horehound by the roadisde, and a number of Pot Marigolds that that escaped the confines of nearby gardens to colonise the pavement.

Arriving at the beach and setting off North through the dunes, it was interesting to encounter Wild Onion, and a glut of Common Restharrow, Common Ragowort and other dune-loving species in full bloom made for pleasant viewing.

The strandline here was dominated by Sea Rocket, and a breif look elsewhere revealed Sea Sandwort, and both Frosted and Spear-leaved Orache. A little further up the beach, a solitary and rather odd looking plant was revealed to be Caper Spurge – a noxious weed in Southern parts of the UK but a new species for me nontheless.

Owing to a wealth of Hemlock Water-dropwort in full bloom nearby, insects were particularly numerous along this stretch. Most of the common and familiar bumblebees were represented and a couple of Vestal Cuckoo Bees were spotted nectaring on the frothy white flowers. A small, solitary bee potted for closer inspection was likely Sandpit Mining Bee but alas, I will await confirmation on iRecord!

Butterflies were well represented too with Small Skipper, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Red Admiral, Ringlet and Meadow Brown all observed nearby, and on the moth front, Matt drew my attention to a Yellow Shell at rest on some nearby bracken.

Back to plants now and as we drew closer to Boulmer a number of new species began to appear. First came Agrimony with its deligtful yellow flower spikes and next, the delicate pink flowers of Field Bindweed.

A slightly more unusual sighting came in the form of twenty or so Tomato plants growing merrily along the strandline, some in flower and others starting to fruit. We contemplated these arriving as a result of a discarded picnic but the number and spread of the plants would suggest they arrived as a result of sewage washing up on the beach. No doubt having passed through a human first!

Arriving at Boulmer, the dune flora changed somewhat with lots of Bloody Crane’s-bill and Red Bartsia observed. Near the village, two more garden escapes were noticed in the form of Horse-raddish and Onion, the latter complete a towering, purple bloom. More interesting was an expansive (and rather beautiful) patch of Musk-mallow.

After a prolonged search, we finally stumbled across what I confess had been the target of the day’s outing. A hulking speciment of Henbane, almost completely in seed. Thankfully, a single flower was still present and I can now at least say I have seen this impressive wildflower in bloom in Northumberland.

Boulmer is a known site for this locally rare species but even then, an encounter is far from guaranteed with Henbane seeds able to lie dormant for many years until disturbance encourages them to germinate.

Further North ,where dunes give way to a concrete seawall, the flora here took an interesting turn with countless garden escapes blending with native plants to create an intriguing mosaic of colour. While it was quite difficult to discern what was self-sown here and what had been planted, a hulking brute of Cotton Thistle certainly appeared ‘wild’. It was also interesting to note a wealth of White Stonecrop strewn across the rocks and Wormwood was plentiful.

Slightly more interesting was a fine example of Monk’s-hood in full flower and Dwarf Mallow, as ever, was nice to see. Little of note was found in the grassland where the village gives way to fields besides a good sized patch of Good-king-henry .

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