Lleyn Sea Cliffs IPA

Location: The coast of the Lleyn Peninsula in north west Wales, to the north and west of the A499/497.

Grid Reference: SH 217 257

Lleyn-sea-cliffs-flickr.jpg

Lleyn Sea Cliffs IPA covers three coastal stretches around the beautiful Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales. This IPA extends along the south of the peninsula from Methlem in the east towards the town of Aberdaron, from west of Aderdaron towards Abersoch and along the north-west coast from Porth Towyn to beyond Nefyn. There are several islands around the coast including Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island which lies off the tip of the peninsula.The site encompasses eight Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and lies within the Peninsula Heritage Coast and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.The mountains of the peninsula fall dramatically into the sea creating sheer cliffs broken by wide bays and rocky coves.These features create a wide variety of plant habitats- coastal dunes to rock cliffs and ledges to shores.

Close to the town of Abersoch is Porth Neigwl or Hell’s Mouth.Large waves form at this 3 mile wide bay making this rural, pebble beach popular with surfers.The geology here leads to various levels of coastal erosion which has produced a patchwork of plant communities.The west of the bay is more stable in contrast to the eastern bay which is mainly sandy and this leads to a gradient of vegetation communities. In the east and central bay maritime grasslands are dominated by red fescue, Yorkshire fog, thrift, and sea plantain and in the west coarse grassland and scrub dominate.

A variety of sand dunes can also be found at Porth Neigwl .To the west coughs nest on the sea cliffs and feed in nearby heath and grassland.Several uncommon plant species are found on these cliffs including golden samphire, ivy broomrape and sea storks’s-bill.

Slightly further east is Porth Ceiriad bay which supports a varied mosaic of plant communities.There are areas of maritime grassland and western heath featuring western gorse and bell heather.Pools on the heathland contain rare plants including pale dog violet and this is the only remaining site in Wales for bog hair grass. The cliffs close to this bay support dotted sedge, Portland spurge and lanceloate spleenwort.

To the east and west of the town of Aberdaron steep sea cliffs topped with coastal heath dominate the coastline.The heathland contains heather and gorse based plant communities which have been sculpted into waves by strong salt laden winds. Uncommon plants found on the heath are prostrate broom and the spotted rock rose which is only known here and on Anglesey in Britain. This is one of the few sites in the UK where ciliate strap lichen and the strikingly bright golden hair lichen can be found. The sea cliffs support golden samphire, lanceolate spleenwort, and sea lavender and a diversity of cliff-nesting birds including gulls, auks, fulmar and peregrine.

On the north-western coast of the peninsula a 5km stretch of bedrock interspersed with coarse sand, cobbles and pebbles stretches from Porth Towyn to Borth Wen.The plant interest here is the yellow and grey lichens which inhabit a zone which is occasionally wetted by seawater.Sea ivory and orange, green and black tar lichens can be seen.

Lying 3km off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula is Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island which is managed by Bardsey Island Trust.The island is home to thousands of Manx shearwaters which return to breed each year.It is possible to visit the island by a boat sailing from Aberdaron – check the forecast as the crossing has been described as choppy.

The island has been designated a SSSI for its maritime and intertidal communities and its species of lichen, bryophytes, vascular plants and birds.Much of the coastal vegetation is of international importance.Rock samphire can be found growing in rock crevices but on cliffs enriched by seabird guano common chickweed and common sorrel have developed.Large areas support maritime cliff vegetation and maritime grassland where thrift, spring squill, sea campion, buck’s-horn plantain and red fescue dominate.A variety of heathland habitats supporting heather, gorse and bracken are found further from the coast.

The nationally rare rock sea-lavender grows on the cliffs and scare species including small adder’s tongue fern, western clover and sharp rush can be found in other areas.Over 300 lichens and 200 bryophytes have been recorded on the island, with some being at their limit of geographical range in Britain.Lichens live on the soil, on rocks, on trees and even on old, man-made structures.Shallow cliff top soil exposed to salt laden winds stunts vascular plant growth but provides an ideal lichen habitat where rare ciliate strap and golden hair lichens can be found. Sheltered screes on the north-east support a rich fern and bryophyte flora and rare liverworts and mosses thrive.The wonderful richness of flora is a direct result of the wide diversity of habitats found on this small island.


Image: Lleyn Sea Cliffs© jonbgem under CC BY-NC 2.0

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