One of the features that makes Forvie special, like much of the North East coast, is the coastal morphology. The cliffs of Forvie are a protected feature of the site and it’s an important habitat on its own right. The environment is harsh, bearing the brunt of strong winds, breaking waves and salt spray. Yet they are home to plenty of wildlife, our coastal specialists!
Some of the species that might instantly jump to mind are our seabirds like thyis Kittiwake below pictures last year. Many species will nest on the cliffs to stay away from predators like foxes but herin lies the trade off. There is a reason they are safer from certain predators on the cliffs, the danger and harshness of the environment. These birds are specially adapted to live in these environments, filling a different niche than species we might see inland.
But birds are not the only groups that have adapted to these niche environment. These are also harsh conditions for plants, on the cliff and clifftops. The physical elements are challenging. Strong winds prune plants of leaves and dry them out. Rocky and sandy soil limit water retention. Waves crashing over the cliffs spray salt in the air that absorbs into the plants – all things that would kill many plants.
Yet as the title suggests, our coastal specialist are hardy plants! A familiar sight for many on the cliffs will be Sea Thrift. You will often see bees fliting from flower to flower on the Forvie cliffs picking up nectar and pollen along the way. One of the features that allows it to grow on the clifftops is that it’s a halophyte, meaning it is adapted to varying saline conditions. Salt taken up into the plant is compartmentalised and sent into older leaves of the plant which will be shed from the plant. It is also drought tolerant, meaning it will grow well on coastal habitats but in poorly drained soil that holds a lot of water, Sea Thrift would likely be out-competed by other plants.
Another coastal specialist we have on the Forvie coast is this beautiful flowering Sea Campion. As the name suggests, just like Sea Thrift, it occurs mostly by the sea and grows on the clifftops on the reserve. Sea Campion’s grey-green leaves are slightly fleshy which helps it to retain moisture in the face of sea winds. The leaves are also waxy to feel, this is often a feature of plants to help retain moisture in the leaf.
One of the rare and protected plants at Forvie which is a true coastal specialist is the Oysterplant pictured below. It blooms beautiful blue flowers, pink when in bud. It forms mats on the shingle and even from the picture you can tell the leaves are quite fleshy to help store water! It got its common name as its leaves are said to taste of oysters. As it’s a protected plant we can’t of course test that so we might have to trust the internet on that one. They are also called Sea Bluebells as the flowers do share a resemblance! On the reserve these plants can grow on the high tide line, washed over with sea water and wave action. The lack of other plants nearby shows just how specialised and tough plants like this can be but they do suffer. Its rarity these days stems from habitat destruction and climate change.
This last plant grows in coastal areas like clifftops and salt-marshes but can occur other places as well. Common Scurvy-grass. To avoid confusion, it didn’t get its common name because it leaves you anaemic with severe tooth issues but quite the opposite. It is rich in vitamin C and was brought on ships in dried bundles or as extracts to stave off scurvy. The sharp taste of the leaves were made into a popular Scurvy-grass ale in the UK as a tonic. That might just be another flavour that I’ll leave to my imagination. Like the other plants here, it has a high tolerance to salt levels which allows it to grow better in unforgiving coastal conditions.
All in all the species found on the coast are often specially adapted to this environment, hence why they thrive as opposed to other species. These species are just some of the plants that brave the elements to adapt to their local environments.