Monday, 29 September 2014

Botanising at Abermenai

Abermenai Point is the southernmost extremity of Anglesey and being further from road access than anywhere in the county is the closest the island gets to having an ultima thule. A group of botanists went there a few weeks ago. We followed one of the traditional routes that used to be taken by workers going from Anglesey by ferry to the slate quarries in Snowdonia. Appropriately, the small car park at Penlon is bounded by a slate fence on which are inscribed delightful images of birds, butterflies, thus reflecting both the heritage and wildlife interest of the route.

Our first pause was near the mouth of the Afon Braint where the river channel takes a sharp turn. In text book fashion, erosion on the outside of this bend is matched by accretion on the inside with new ground being colonised by salt marsh plants. To reach Abermenai Point we then headed off across 1.3 km of tidal flats. On some maps these flats are called Traeth Melynog, perhaps this roughly translates as ‘yellow beach’. Although the tide was well out the crossing was wet underfoot because of the innumerable lugworm casts and patches of blanketing green seaweed. 

Abermenai Point itself is a fine example of a recurved shingle spit with superimposed dunes. On the inner side it hooks right round to almost enclose a marsh dominated by sea-purslane. Shingle spits like this occur at their mouths of several Welsh estuaries, but the SW end of the Menai Strait is unusual in having hooked spits on both sides.

Masses of Babington's Orache growing on debris wash onto the top of the shingle by storms last winter

On the point itself there is a ruined building associated with the former ferry. An interesting thought is that this may have sheltered several eminent botanists who passed this way in the 17th and 18th centuries. In his book based on researching the journals of early botanists visiting Snowdonia (The Botanists and Mountain Guides of Snowdonia, 2nd ed, 2007) Dewi Jones mentions several who crossed to Anglesey by way of the Abermenai Ferry. In August 1639 Thomas Johnson used the ferry, while staying at Glynllifon with the local MP who was also interested in botany. From the ferry these early botanists went on to Llanddwyn Island where they recorded Rock Sea-lavender. It is still common there in a limited area round the Old Light. We found a tiny amount of it on our visit behind Abermenai Point as well. The next recorded botanical visitor was John Ray. In May 1662 he noted two seashore species at Abermenai which no longer occur anywhere in North Wales, Cottonweed and Sea Stock. Joseph Banks was also there, in 1773, noting the presence of another plant no longer recorded here, Isle of Man Cabbage.

Sea Holly

On our visit, perhaps the most spectacular plant encountered as we came back along the inside of the long spit was Sea Holly. It is more abundant here where blown sand comes over the salt marsh edge than anywhere else we know in Wales. Sea Holly, with its geometrical growth forms and sky blue flowers, is arresting enough, but this huge swathe of blue was a magnet to nectar-hungry migrant butterflies, and we saw both Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellows.


  1. Ivor's account suggests to me that readers might be inspired to hear Nigel Brown (Curator of Treborth Botanic Garden) talking on a similar topic: "North Wales - an Inspirational Landscape". This is at Venue Cymru, Llandudno on Friday 14th November. Tickets can be purchased from the North Wales Wildlife Trust office in Bangor or from Venue Cymru.