Friday, 6 December 2013

A Walk Across Mynydd Cilan

Posted by Dave Lamacraft, Plantlife Cymru Lower Plants Officer

Mynydd Cilan on the Lleyn peninsula is a fantastic place for walking with stunning views across Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea, taking in Bardsey Island, the St. David's peninsula, Cadair Idris, Snowdon and the Lleyn. Unfortunately these views weren't much in evidence when I met ITV Cymru Wales' Coast & Country crew to film for the series recently.

Ifan the director had hatched a plan for presenter Ruth and I to walk some of the coastal path and explore some of the wildlife - the birds, wild flowers and lichens that make Mynydd Cilan so special - along with some of the local mining history. The weather most definitely was not on our side, with a strong wind coming off the Irish Sea to add to the thick mist and persistent drizzle.

The beauty of being on a peninsula in the Irish Sea is that although you do cop some weather, it often changes fairly rapidly, and we were in luck. The mist started to lift and had cleared by the time we reached the trig point, revealing the sweep of Hell's Mouth and Bardsey Island sitting off the western tip of the peninsula.

First stop was one of the old manganese mines that dot the western flanks of the headland. They were most likely 'trial' mines and not worked extensively, unlike the buildings of the old lead mine nearby which suggest  a more intensive operation. The old engine house, and the name of the houses alongside - Cornish Row - hint at the use of Cornish mining expertise.

Mynydd Cilan is one of the best sites for the chough in north Wales, a bird for which Wales is really important; three quarters of the UK's population of this rare bird call it home. We were hoping to film the choughs, and other species such as peregrine, stonechat and linnet, but thanks to the gale force wind, they weren't playing ball for Mark the cameraman; we decided to focus on the plants and lichens.

The heathland of Mynydd Cilan is a special habitat, there is considerably less of it in the world than there is of tropical forest, and it is mostly found on the Atlantic coasts of Europe. Created and maintained by man's interaction with the habitat over hundreds of years it supports a range of rare plants that have evolved to flourish with grazing. Chamomile, a well-known herb, which will most likely have been here for centuries is flourishing on a natural chamomile lawn maintained by grazing sheep and ponies. The muddy edges of the adjacent pond where the ponies disturb the mud provide a home for pillwort and three-lobed water crowfoot. These plants then make more use of the ponies as their seeds hitch a lift in mud stuck to their hooves and are dispersed to other pools and track-ways on the headland.

That changeable weather changed again, and a bit for the worse, as we went to film the golden hair lichen on the cliff top. The wind was howling, making it difficult to hear ourselves, and making it near impossible for Nick the sound man (and chief waffle eater). The golden hair lichen is a rare species of coastal heath in south-western Britain which, ironically, likes 'dry, sunny, warm temperate areas' according to the books. Lichens are pretty robust things, able to survive in some of the harshest environments on the globe, this one even surviving being leant on by Nick's elbow.

It was a long day, but a good day nonetheless. A real eye-opener for me was seeing the crew going about their work with such professionalism, they did an amazing job in some pretty adverse conditions. Hopefully tonight's programme will inspire a few people to get out and look at some of the wild plants and lichens on the Welsh coast, and not worry too much about the weather!

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