Great Orme graffiti
It’s the juxtaposition that jars the most – something so shockingly urban in such a remote and wild place.
During the day that Chris Packham recently visited the Great Orme (Y Gogarth in Welsh) as part of his UK BioBlitz, I recorded 333 species of flowering plants, testament to the remarkable diversity of the colourful life found here. But since then, the discovery of an act of pure vandalism on the limestone rocks has tainted the display.
The graffiti is actually fairly small – just two metres by one metre - but it packs a massive visual punch. Strangely, it can’t easily be seen. I walked past on the rocky ledge above several times before finding it, but this only seems to heighten the utter pointlessness of the act.
Spray-painted in black, white and lurid pink, about eight species of flowering plant have been hit including rare hoary rockrose (Helianthemum oelandicum subsp. incanum), which is a speciality of the Great Orme, along with wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus), carline thistle (Carlina vulgaris), thrift (Armeria maritima) and wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria).
Most alarmingly, the graffiti is just a couple of steps away from a clump of Welsh hawkweed (Hieracium cambricum), an exceptionally rare endemic species of which only around 350 plants are known at just two sites in the world.
Some clumps of lichen and moss have been hit too, including what were once bright yellow-orange Caloplaca flavescens lichen and clumps of round-fruited grimmia moss (Grimmia orbicularis). Other lichens are buried too, ghostly outlines that are impossible to identify under the thick cloak of paint.
The good news is that most of the flowering plants should recover. I spotted new fresh growth unblemished by paint on carline thistle, hoary rockrose, thrift, crested hair-grass and wall-rue. But the wild thyme was in a poor state, most of its wiry stems now pink and leafless. Given their re-growth I suspect the graffiti was sprayed around the beginning of July.
Sadly, being smaller and slower-growing, the lichens and mosses might not recover at all. I did see some yellow tiny fragments of Caloplaca lichens growing through the paint, but I suspect most are dead and buried.
I’ve known and loved the Great Orme for 30 years. As an Important Plant Area (IPA) it’s one of the top five sites for wild flowers in Britain. More than anything else this act of vandalism has left a deep knife wound in my heart. It means that someone with no care at all took their time to walk to a remote and stunningly beautiful wild place and stamp their hideous mark.
The real tragedy is the disconnection. Upsetting events like this must act to redouble our efforts to foster a love, respect and better understanding of nature and the true value of all our wild places.
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