Gower Cliffs, Glamorgan

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.

Of global significance, the Gower Important Plant Area boasts an extraordinary flora - 700 species of wild flowers in all – thanks to the diversity of habitats, land use and history of the peninsula. Small arable fields still support a wealth of cornfield flowers, heathland pools shelter delicate water buttercups and pastures are home to some of Wales’ rarest orchids. But it’s the towering limestone cliffs along its southern edge, 24 km of them in all, that are packed with special plants, like Yellow Whitlow-grass (Draba aizoides) that grows nowhere else in Britain.

But the thin soils and rugged rocks make a perfect home to invasive non-native species. At least ten different types of invasive cotoneasters (Cotoneaster species) have been recorded here, along with Butterfly-bush (Buddleja davidii), Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and others. The cotoneasters are a particular problem, as they smother the very rocks and crevices where Yellow Whitlow-grass and rare lichens and bryophytes grow, destroying the habitats they need.

Using our experience of Cotoneaster control in southern England and working with the National Trust, we’ve undertaken a programme of eradication at Foxhole Bay near Southgate, as this location is important not just for a whole host of rare plants but for foraging Chough too.

Our goals:

- Remove invasive cotoneasters using a programme of targeted stem injection.

- Introduce grazing to the area for more sustained control of invasive cotoneaster.

- Restore the natural mosaic of limestone grassland and open rocky slopes.

- Allow the special coastal flowers and plants to flourish again.

Under threat:

Yellow Whitlow-grass (Draba aizoides)

The Gower peninsula is the only place in the UK where you will find this dainty yellow flower in the wild. Its tight cushions grow in rock crevices – just where Cotoneaster likes to grow – and several colonies were engulfed before clearance began. Remarkably, it’s actually a member of the cabbage family and is often grown in rock gardens. Photo © Tim Wilkins/Plantlife.

Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos)

The pretty purple-blue flowers of this little annual plant are produced throughout the summer. Unable to tolerate competition from dense vegetation, it grows on lime-rich soil in open places where its seeds can germinate. It had not been recorded at Foxhole for 27 years, until Plantlife experts discovered it, just a few feet away from encroaching cotoneaster! Photo © Tim Wilkins/Plantlife.

Juniper (Juniperus communis)

Although small, many of the junipers on the Gower cliffs are thought to be hundreds of years old. Hugging the rock faces to avoid the worst of the weather, their knotted and twisted trunks reveal their age. Even larger bushes are being overtopped by fast-growing cotoneasters. Photo © Bob Gibbons/Plantlife.

How's it going?

2013 – 2016

Funding is secured from Biffa Award to undertake emergency cotoneaster control in partnership with the National Trust.

Before work begins, the cliffs are surveyed in detail to map the occurence of rare and threatened lichens and bryophytes. During the survey, a species of Anema lichen not found in Britain before is discovered on the cliffs. Due to it's appearance it's nicknamed the 'burnt cauliflower lichen'.

Three years of targeted eradication are completed, using herbicides injected into cotoneaster stems to minimise the impact on other vegetation (below - note dying cotoneaster and surrounding healthy vegetation).

The effect is dramatic and much of the cotoneaster is controlled. As a result, the flora of Foxhole Bay begins to recover.

Who are we working with?