Gower IPA

Location: West from Swansea on the south coast of Wales.

Grid Reference: SS 520 907

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Gower IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • One of the UK’s most important populations of fen orchid.
  • The species richness of vascular plants in dry calcareous (limestone) grasslands.
  • The species richness of vascular plants in temperate shrub heath
  • The species richness of vascular plants on rock cliffs, ledges and shores
  • The species richness of vascular plants in arable habitat
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Ashwoods of slopes, screes and ravines;
    Dry heaths;
    Purple moor-grass meadows;
    Wet heaths

    The Gower peninsula is justifiably famous for its landscape and wildlife.
  • Some 24 kilometres of limestone cliffs, caves, dunes and beaches form its southern boundary, while the northern edge follows the estuary of the River Loughor. The western edge of the peninsula runs from the spectacular rocks of Worm’s head to the vast sand-dune system at Whiteford Point. Inland, a mixed farming landscape gives way on higher ground to open acidic commons and moorland. Near the southern coast, the steep limestone valleys are home to important ash woodlands, a habitat that contributes further to the richness of the area, with over 700 vascular plant species recorded.

    The dunes have a high chalk content in their substrate because of the crushed, calcium rich shells in the sand which, blown inland, provides a refuge for many chalk-loving flowers, while the damp dune slacks are also home to several rare flowers. Within the dune grassland and calcareous grassland about 250 species of flowering plants have been recorded, including the rare fen orchid and dune gentian. They are a great place to see wild orchids in late May and June. As well as the fen orchid, they include the bee orchid, common twayblade , early marsh-orchid, southern marsh-orchid and pyramidal orchid.

    Other flowers of the dunes include seaside centaury, carline thistle, sea spurge, viper’s bugloss and various types of vetches and clovers. The limestone cliffs are home to several specialised grasses and flowers adapted to a life of exposure to strong winds and salt spray. One of the rarer plants found here is the yellow whitlow grass, a Mediterranean species confined in the UK to south Wales, where it grows with more characteristic coastal flowers such as spring squill, thrift and golden samphire.

    Other species of the cliffs include small restharrow, early gentian, goldilocks aster and three endemic rock sea-lavenders. The cliffs are also important for the lichen communities, with good populations of the scrambled egg lichen, amongst others. The woods have a spectacular display of wildflowers in the spring, such as bluebells and ramsons. They also have some rarer plant species - purple gromwell, herb paris and butcher's broom.

    Image: Gower IPA © Bob Gibbons/Plantlife