Location: West from Swansea on the south coast of Wales.
Grid Reference: SS 520 907
The Gower peninsula has everything in abundance. There are beaches, dunes, rugged limestone cliffs, heathland, farmland, sheltered ash woodlands and even saltmarsh. Little wonder its home to some of the most diverse habitats and rarest plants in Britain.The Gower peninsula boasts an extraordinary flora. Over 700 species of wild flowers grow here thanks to the diversity of geology, habitats and history of the peninsula. The spectacular coast includes high cliffs of limestone rock, sheltered sandy coves backed by dunes and, on the northern coast, extensive areas of low-lying saltmarsh. Inland, the farming landscape still includes networks of small arable fields and pastures, giving way to heathland higher up.
The southern Gower coast can lay claim to 15 miles of limestone cliffs, caves, dunes and beaches. Clothed in rocky limestone grassland, the soaring cliffs are home to ancient juniper bushes (over 250 have been counted) along with a tiny jewel – yellow whitlowgrass – an upland Mediterranean species that grows here and nowhere else in Britain. Other species of the cliffs include small restharrow, early gentian, goldilocks aster, western clover, basil thyme and three types of rock sea-lavender that grow nowhere else in the world. The cliffs are also important for their lichens, with good populations of scrambled egg lichen, amongst many others.
At Whiteford Point and Oxwich there are some wonderful sand dunes. The lime-rich dune grassland is home to over 250 species of plant including the rare fen orchid, dune gentian and Wales’s only population of burnt-tip orchid. Other more common orchids include bee orchid, marsh helleborine, early marsh-orchid, southern marsh-orchid and pyramidal orchid. Other flowers of the dunes include sea holly, seaside centaury, yellow bartsia, sea spurge and viper’s bugloss.
Inland, the ground becomes more acidic and a remarkable series of damp heathland commons occur. Some of these are home to huge populations of chamomile, the distinctive scent rising from the ground as you walk over them. In a few small pools, the rare three-lobed water crowfoot flowers in spring before the ground dries out in summer. The higher hills are clothed with heather, bell heather and western gorse, providing a colourful tapestry in August and September.
On lower ground, the mixed farming landscape is still dotted with cornfields growing wheat and barley. A few of these have escaped the intensification of arable farming and support spectacular communities of rare cornfield flowers. Golden corn marigolds are the most conspicuous and are a signal for a closer look; as well as field pansy, sun spurge and henbit deadnettle, such fields can reveal rare flowers like small-flowered catchfly, annual knawel, broad-fruited cornsalad and cornfield knotgrass.
Back near the southern coast, the steep limestone valleys are home to beautiful ash woodlands, a habitat that provides quite contrast to the majority of the Gower landscape and contributes further to the richness of the area. In spring, these cool shaded woods have spectacular displays of wildflowers such as bluebells and ramsons, but they’re also home to rarer plant species like purple gromwell, herb paris and butcher's broom.
Image: Gower IPA © Bob Gibbons/Plantlife