Saturday, 2 November 2013

Biodiversity in Sidmouth: Beach Garden

To quote a member of the Vision Group who was involved in this project in April this year:

'Biodiversity' is a huge topic and there is perhaps poor understanding of exactly what it means. 

The greatest corruption of biodiversity is due to modern farming practices which we here in Sidmouth cannot do too much about. However, we could focus on little pockets of our own environment.  

If we focus on plants as one factor in biodiversity we are also providing food and habitat for insects, birds and animals and providing detritus for fungi etc. . .

We might increase biodiversity by enhancing environments to enable species already present to flourish. By example, leaving grasses uncut until the end of the season, encouraging native bushes or hedging. Naturally changing environments may themselves promote diversity eg. a fallen tree. Over manipulation of environments by ourselves may have adverse effects.

The beach garden is an example of where we can make a difference. Sidmouth in Bloom should be congratulated for getting this project off the ground

About a year ago this was an area of shingle protected from the worst of the storms where a few native plants were already growing. The intention is to enhance the environment to encourage those plants and to introduce further plants raised from seed collected from beach environments close by to Sidmouth. One plant which we have tried to introduce is sea kale which reportedly used to grow on that part of the beach. 

It is important to stress the need for using locally sourced seed. Having local populations of a particular plant that may be slightly genetically different from their neighbours is useful. If for example one local population is hit by a disease, then there is a chance that some nearby population is sufficiently genetically diverse to have resistance to that disease. 

We need to be careful about where our introduced  genetic material comes from however, as  so called UK seed companies may well acquire seed from all over Europe, or wider. Adding the same species from somewhere else may be thought of as increasing the local genetic diversity, but really in the longer term it would be reducing it by making the wider gene pool more homogeneous. 

The notice board on the beach site is a great asset in attempting to involve and inform. 

The project was covered by the press at the time:

TV star declares Sidmouth Oceanscene open! - News - Sidmouth Herald

It is in fact doing very well, half a year on:

Vision Group for Sidmouth - Sidmouth Beach Garden - Inauguration

And here's the full report:

The Sidmouth Beach Garden

Sidmouth in Bloom (SIB) are developing an area of beach where the storm tides
rarely reach and beach plants have already started to colonise. They have taken
over management of the site from East Devon DC and persuaded them not to kill
of all the vegetation with weedkiller. Plants such as the sea beet, tree mallow,
horned poppy and rock samphire are already colonising the site and the aim is to
increase the biodiversity by introducing other native beach plants that have not
yet reached the site. Devon Plant Heritage Group is backing the project by
helping to grow beach plants from seed sourced from other parts of the county.

Our aim is to encourage proper beach plant communities to develop on our

Why should we encourage these plants to grow on the beach?

Beach, dune and saltmarsh plant habitats are relatively rare and the plant
communities that grow in them are highly specialised. These habitats are being
reduced as more and more development occurs around the coastline and they are
also under threat due to climate change and rising sea levels. By their nature
beaches form relatively unstable and transient habitats that can be easily
destroyed by severe storms or damaged by oil spills etc. Storms, acting together
with longshore drift can remove large areas of shingle from one area destabilising
or removing the local beach plant community, and depositing the shingle
elsewhere where it may block of estuaries and saltmarshes. Once the sea is
prevented from washing into a saltmarsh the marsh will lose salinity and change
to a freshwater environment.

Most beach plants are capable of growing in a more stable land environment but
do not succeed there as they cannot compete against more aggressive land
species. Thus some of them like the sea wormwood (Artemisia maritima) will grow
readily in good garden soil, but like most garden plants will only survive if the
gardener continues to weed out more aggressive competitors that would normally
take over the site. Some of these coastal plants are relatively tender and cannot
survive the harsh frosts of inland. Plants like the rock samphire (Crithmum
maritimum) tend to grow in sea walls, rocky crevices in clifs or very close to the
sea where the warmth from the sea or the shelter lessens the chance of freezing.
Most of the plants have a high tolerance to salt water which allows them to grow
in an environment which would be hostile to the more competitive land plants.

What role do these plants play in our heritage?

Many of our domesticated food plants have been derived from beach plants, thus
the various leaf beets, beetroot and sugar beet have evolved from the sea beet,
and carrots, parsnips, peas, brassicas, asparagus, turnips and radishes are derived
from wild beach plants or close relatives. Rocket is a beach plant that is
now widely cultivated for salads, whilst seakale and some of the saltmarsh plants
are grown or collected as gourmet foods. In particular the Saltwort (Salsola kali),
known as Agretti in Italy, is cultivated or harvested from the wild across southern
Europe and a closely related beach plant is harvested and eaten in Japan.
Glasswort (various Salicornia species) are collected around our coasts as Marsh

How can I help?

Please help to maintain and encourage the growth of our native beach plants and
discourage vandalism at this or other beach plant sites across the country.
You may wish to help to maintain this or other planted areas around Sidmouth by
contacting Sidmouth in Bloom (SIB). (Lynette or Peter 01395 578081)

If you are interested in plants and gardening you could join Plant Heritage. This
UK wide organisation that runs the National Plant Collections scheme operates at
a local county level. It organises garden events and ofers discounted entries to
many gardens (often not open to the public) across the country and to the
National Collections. The Devon group is the largest local group and is ofering
discounted membership during spring 2013. Pick up the leaflets for details (John
01395 578689, or Penny/David 01363 866401.

If you are interested in local flora and fauna a Biodiversity Group is being formed
within Vision Group for Sidmouth. See their website for details or contact Louise

There are also various Beach clean-up parties such as Sidcomb (organised by SIB)
or by other bodies such as Vision Group for Sidmouth, Sustainable Ottery etc.,
which can be good fun and a chance to meet like-minded individuals.


It is important that we educate children and visitors in the role of beach plants in
our heritage and that we help these plants to survive in their very transient

Dr John D Twibell, Chairman - Devon Group of Plant Heritage

Vision Group for Sidmouth - Beach Garden

See also: Futures Forum: VGS AGM: Sidmouth in Bloom

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