Flora and Fauna in Weymouth and Portland
Portland’s coastline provides an important habitat for a wide variety of flowering plants. The salty conditions mean that some of the plants found on the coastline can differ considerably from those inland.
A walk along the coast path at Portland Bill will allow you to see many plants that are inaccessible at other parts of the island. During the spring, Thrift blooms along parts of the cliff top and the pink flower gives rise to its common name of Sea Pink. Around this time the small fleshy leaves of Scurvy Grass can also be seen emerging. This small plant is a rich source of Vitamin c and was once gathered for use on-board ships to relieve the symptoms of scurvy.
A common spring plant is the Alexander, originally introduced into the British Isles by the Romans. The young stalks were one prized for their culinary uses and despite its Mediterranean origins; the plant is well established here. Another plant found in the Bill area, which also has a strong culinary use is Rock Samphire. Growing on the cliff edge in conditions where other plants do not survive, the plant’s distinctive taste once made it a popular addition to fish dishes. The demand for the plant was so high during the nineteenth century, that it was openly sold on the streets of London.
Often growing close to Rock Samphire is the Golden Samphire, with yellow sun-like flowers, making it an attractive contrast to the pale white flowers of the Rock Samphire. Moving further along the coast, the cliffs gradually get higher. It is here that one of the country’s rarest plants, Portland Sea Lavender, can be found. Living in extreme conditions, often tenuously clinging to the cliff face, this plant is unique to Portland. Occasionally, patches of Pyramidal Orchids may be found next to paths, and sometimes, on open bare rock you may also find Portland Spurge, with its red and blue leaves providing a welcome splash of colour.
Church Ope Cove is a fantastic place for exploring the island’s wild-flowers. Red valerian, locally known as ‘Kiss Me Quick’, grows amongst the boulder strewn slopes giving the Cove a Mediterranean feel during the hot summer months. The area has a broad mixture of plant life and of particular note are the East Weare undercliffs, which lie to the North of the Cove. Botanically rich, combining a mixture of maritime and quarry plants, this area is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds allowing wild wayfaring trees to establish over much of this area.
The open grasslands at Portland Bill provide a habitat for many plants which are also found across the rest of the Island. These plants include Wild Carrot, Common Centaury, Lady’s Bedstraw, Wild Thyme, Squinancywort, Black Medick and Red Bartsia. One of the more unusual plants found around this area is Salad Burnet with unusual pineapple like seed pods.
The attractive river Valley, known as Wey Valley is to the north of Weymouth. Many of the footpaths and lanes are bordered by hedgerows of Elm, Blackthorn, Hawkthorn, Oak and Ash. The small river valley is rich in woodland species with veteran Oaks standing proud in the landscape. Much of the area is used for agriculture, but a short walk will still result in seeing a diverse mixture of plants and animals. Wildflowers such as Meadowsweet, Tufted Vetch, Ribwort, Bittersweet, Honeysuckle and Knapweed are found to the sides of footpaths. These flowers are vital to the life cycle of the butterflies, moths and other insects that lay their eggs here.
Hedgerows also play an important role for the wildlife of the Wey Valley; they provide ‘wildlife corridors’ which allow the animals to move unhindered and in safety. The Blackberries and Sloes found at the end of the summer are essential food sources for many creatures in the valley.
The River Wey provides an important, the reeds and rushes along the riverbank are mixed with colourful flowers such as the Yellow Flag Iris. During the summer the river is home to a variety of different creatures, the most visual and attractive the dragonflies and damselflies. Take a walk on a summer day and you are likely to see a variety of different ‘hawkers’, the Broad Bodied Chaser and even Britain’s largest dragonfly, the Emperor Dragonfly.
To the north of the valley, above Upwey, lies the Ridgeway. The slopes of this long stretch of hills are noted for their areas of calcareous and neutral grassland. The wetter areas, where springs emerge from the ground, contain a mixture of Hard Rush, Water Mint, Hairy Sedge, Ragged Robin, Watercress, Square-Stalked St John’s-Wort, Wild Marjoram and Bugle.
Chickerell, lying to the west of Weymouth, this parish provides more open countryside to explore – some bounding the shores of the fleet. The Lanes and footpaths contain some of the many plants found around the Wey Valley. The area also has a broad selection of ponds and wetlands that are rich in wildlife. The Woodland Trust site contains a number if ponds and wetlands, that are rich in wildlife. The Woodland trust site contains a number of ponds, surrounded by Willow, Reed Mace and Zebra Grass, providing a habitat for a host of dragonflies. The rest of the site has been planted with a mixture of broad leafed trees, including Oak and Ash. Close by is Bennetts Water Gardens, which is one of Europe’s oldest water lily nurseries and has a national collection of over 150 species of Lilies.
Around Chickerell village, the meadows and fields sustain a diverse mix of plants from Pyramidal Orchids to Bird’s-Foot Trefoil. To the north of the parish, the arable fields and area of open grassland support some less common species of wildlife. Brown Hare and deer can occasionally be glimpsed, whilst Buzzards fly overhead.