Flora of Port Gaverne Main, North Cornwall

(from The Flora and Fauna of Port Gaverne by Malcolm Lee May 1993)

Old Slate Road and Slate Quay

Wild flowers

The old slate road and the slate quay were cut around 1860 to enable slate from Delabole quarry to be exported. With the coming of the railway in 1893, the old road was soon abandoned. In the last hundred years or so, the thin soil and neglect has led to a herb rich community, similar to that above Moon's Grave, but more exposed to the wind and salt.
On the slate quay itself taller plants include Tree Mallow, Red Valerian, Curled Dock, Bristly Ox-Tongue and Agrimony. Scarlet Pimpernel and Creeping Cinquefoil carpet the rough scree at the cliff base.

The cliff face has a typical crevice community of Thrift, Rock Sea Spurrey, Navelwort, Buck's horn Plantain and Sea Plantain and occasional stunted Curled Dock.

Harts tongue fernThe lower part of the old slate road has large numbers of the nationally local fern Sea Spleenwort in the lower crevices between the slate quay and the wooden bridge. Fleabane grows by the bridge. Sheeps Bit is common along the top of the cutting, and Rock Samphire grows almost continuously around the edge.

In the grassy areas can be found Common Dog Violet, Primrose, Common Scurvy Grass and Betony.

The upper part of the slate road has extensive English Stonecrop and Thyme on the edge of the low cutting. As on the slate quay, the typical crevice community of Thrift, Buck's Horn and Sea Plantain, and Rock Sea Spurrey has formed. Near the road there is a large area of Red Valerian. The principal grass here is Red Fescue, and Hart's Tongue Fern and Black Spleenwort are found in a few places.

The Main

This is best recorded in three parts, (a) the area bounded by the old slate road and the public road, (b) the area out to Castle Rock and overlooking Waddy Gug, and (c) the north eastern section.

(a) The area bounded by the old slate road and the public road

HoneysuckleThis area is a south west facing 30° slope consisting primarily of coarse grasses such as Cocksfoot. There is an area of scrub in the southern corner overlooking the slate quay, principally Hawthorn, Bramble, Ivy and Honeysuckle. The western boundary of this scrub merges into Hemp Agrimony with Hart's Tongue, Broad Buckler and Soft Shield Ferns, very similar to that on the NT coastal slope opposite.

At the northern side of the scrub, near the path, can be found Yellow Flag, suggesting a small spring nearby.

In 1989 there was a small fire, starting near where the footpaths cross, and fanned eastwards towards the Headlands Hotel. It burnt about a quarter of the grassland, but did no significant damage, and may have been beneficial for some of the flora. In 1991 it was noticeable that Ox-eye Daisies were extremely numerous over this area, turning the cliff land white. This year (1992), Kidney Vetch replaced the Ox-eye Daisies to form a continuous yellow cover.

The narrow strip between the public road and the footpath running parallel with it, is the most herb rich, containing English Stonecrop, Ox-eye Daisy. Sheep’s Bit, Primrose, Dog, Violet, Sea Carrot, Michaelmas Daisy, Red Campion, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Bluebells, and a few small clumps of Spring Squill.

Spring squillBy and large, the rest of this area is coarse grasses with Kidney Vetch and Sea Carrot. However, there are several hundred anthills on the slope, and the tops of these have a more interesting flora, with Bird ’s Foot Trefoil, Black Medick, Lesser Trefoil and Thyme. Even within the coarse grasses can be found a very few clumps of Spring Squill. Perhaps these are the remnants of a much more widespread covering when the Main was grazed. Pictures taken in 1946 show a much greater flora here than can be seen now.

(b) The area out to Castle Rock and overlooking Waddy Gug

The area to the South East side of Teague’s Pit suffers heavily from visitor pressure, with much of the grassland being replaced by a continual carpet of Buck's Horn Plantain. There are still significant numbers of Spring Squill here (530 flower spikes overlooking Teague’s Pit in 1992), but it was very noticeable that the flower spikes often had only a few flowers on them, compared to seven or eight in other less trodden areas. Perhaps the trampling of the bulb leaves reduces the ability to produce large bulbs for the next year.

ThriftCrossing the narrow path, the seat placed on the end of the promontory is a great attraction, leading to clear signs of heavy visitor pressure. In places the Red Fescue is replaced by Buck’s Horn Plantain and Knotgrass. In a few places, all vegetation has been removed, particularly at the landward end of the footpath.

Overlooking Teague’s Pit, the flora is principally Kidney Vetch, Thrift and Rock Samphire, although there are a few Spring Squill (21 flower spikes). There is a fairly typical cliff edge community all round the promontory, but there are two stands of the nationally rare plant Rock Sea Lavender on the south west side, with 122 flower spikes in 1992 (75 in the most north-westerly site, and 47 in the other). There were many more non-flowering rosettes at both sites.

Returning back across the narrow path and walking towards Waddy Gug, the grass to the seaward side of the path is almost exclusively Red Fescue, whilst that to landward is predominantly coarse grass such as Cocksfoot. There is an interesting feature to the north east of the short path that leads off on the left. Here the Red Fescue is almost replaced by a “turf” of Thrift and Sea Plantain, covering many hundreds of square metres.

Within the coarse grass is principally Sea Carrot, Kidney Vetch and Creeping Thistle, but there is a patch of Spring Squill with 218 flowers in 1992, one of which was white.

(c) The North Eastern Section

TormentilMoving up from Waddy Gug to the first seat, the promontory to seaward, between Waddy Gug and Pigeon Gug, is generally coarse grasses, but Tormentil, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, and Betony can be found. Spring Squill is still widespread above Pigeon Gug, with over 800 flower spikes in 1992. Near this spot can be found a small clump (5 flowers) of white flowered Squill, and a pale pink one. To landward of the seat is an extensive patch of Saw-wort, intermingled with Sea Carrot.

The 45° coastal slope to seaward of the path bears the full brunt of the westerly salt winds, and is predominantly Red Fescue with patches of the blue grey Sheep's Fescue. Within the grasses are the most salt tolerant species, Thrift, Rock Samphire, Sea Plantain, Sea Beet and Sea Carrot. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Kidney Vetch and Perennial Sow-thistle are also found.

To the landward of the path is a mix of grasses, Red and Sheep’s Fescue near the path, being replaced by coarser grasses as you move inland. Within the grasses can be found taller species like Creeping Thistle, Perennial Sow-Thistle and Sea Carrot, giving a very colourful display in summer. Kidney Vetch and Bird’s Foot Trefoil are extremely common within the grass.

FoxglovesTaking the path from the Pigeon Gug seat to the middle of the cliff edge path of Cartway Cove, there is a small stand of Hawthorn scrub about half way on the left. Within the coarse grass on the right can be found large numbers of Tufted Vetch, Bluebells and some Foxgloves.

Just before reaching the Cartway Cove path, another path leads off on the left to a ledge much used by fishermen. A third of the way along this path, a large patch of Blackthorn scrub is found on the right. Here is a large clump of Bluebells, as well as Wood Sage.

Alongside the Cartway Cove path, Spring Squill can be found, but they are rather sparse, with only slightly more than 400 flower spikes, not counting those seen on the inaccessible slope below the path at the seaward end (estimated around 500 more flowers). As you walk up from the seaward end, there is a patch of dense Blackthorn scrub on both sides of the path. Further patches of scrub can be found where the path from Pigeon Gug joins. Here are many suckers in the grass, and this patch will undoubtedly grow.

The last part of the path is alongside dense Blackthorn scrub, with many young suckers growing onto the seaward side of the path. This scrub is most extensive, forming an almost continuous thicket back to the top of the Slate Road. Photographs taken in the last 20 years show this scrub has greatly increased.