Since early 2020, the number of plant species found on Hoylake’s foreshore has multiplied almost ten-fold from 24 to 209 to date.
The majority of plant species at Hoylake Beach are specialist species associated specifically with sand dune and/or saltmarsh.
Because these species are so used to being by the sea, many have special coatings on their seeds to allow the sea to transport them on the tides. Some, like the coastal form of Curled Dock, even have specialised, inflated floatation devices called tubercles.
Plant material is constantly washed up by the sea which gives us one major highway for plants to get on to the beach, but there are others…
The huge increase in Lyme-grass and Sand Couch by the RNLI station at Hoylake, where both species are abundant means that the dune ridge there is very probably acting as a source population for both of these plants.
Meanwhile, wild plants are also escaping from gardens which were developed on the former sand dune system like Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Lesser Chickweed, giving us another pathway.
Plants like Willowherbs, Sow-thistles and related plants have evolved to produce wind-dispersed seed, and a lot of plants will have colonised this way.
Finally, plants like Sea Whorl-grass have only ever been recorded on Hoylake Beach on Wirral, and it’s very likely that seeds are also already dormant in the sands below the feet of visitors to the beach.
While some species like Sunflower which occasionally pop up will most likely be from bird seed, these kinds of plants are rare components of the beach.
The very similar Birkdale new green beach, just like Hoylake, accumulated species very quickly and is now home to just shy of 400 different plants. What’s happening to the vegetation is, by-and-large, a completely natural recovery of species which have evolved to inhabit coastal environments like Hoylake beach.
Ecologist, Josh Styles told birkenhead.news, “What’s happening at Hoylake is special, not just on Wirral, but on an international platform.
“Sand dunes and salt marsh are amongst the rarest natural habitats we have left in Britain, while the recovery of a sliver of this habitat on Hoylake’s foreshore is incredible where other coastlines are struggling to defend dunes from erosion.
“Not only are the developing habitats at Hoylake special in themselves, they’re home to some incredibly rare wildlife, including over 200 plant species, 25 are at risk of extinction, alongside scarce insects, an abundance of pollinators and more.
“This habitat is great for wildlife, looks amazing, sequesters tonnes of carbon annually, saves the taxpayer money by catching sand that would otherwise blow into town, and defend Hoylake against rising sea levels – what isn’t to like?”
Below, Josh highlights his favourite plant species that are now found at Hoylake.
Lyme-grass (Leymus arenarius)
Beavers are able to completely change habitats landscapes through flooding areas, cutting down trees and making healthier, more vibrant areas for wildlife. You might be surprised to hear that the humble Lyme-grass is our very own botanical beaver, able to help completely transform a landscape! By forming dense tufts of pastel blue leaves and stems, Lyme-grass quickly traps sand to build up sand dunes loved by huge numbers of specialist plants, animals and fungi.
Sea Whorl-grass (Catabrosa aquatica subspecies minor)
Last seen in Hoylake over 100 years ago, Sea Whorl-grass had been presumed totally extinct until it was refound in 2020. This was after Wirral Council ended the use of herbicide on Hoylake Beach, and represents the third place in the country where you can find this incredibly rare and special beastie.
Sea Milkwort (Lysimachia maritima)
You might not expect it, but this tiny, pink beauty is a close relative of Primroses! Since 2020, Sea Milkwort has started to grow all across Hoylake Beach. In summer, patches of this plant turn pink with flowers and are a total bee magnet!
Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali)
A plant which is red-listed Vulnerable, one degree below Endangered, Prickly Saltwort is a beautiful plant that’s started to grow again across Hoylake’s recovering foreshore. As well as being rare, it looks pretty groovy – like a spiky, alien Christmas tree.
Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)
This prickly customer is still rare across Hoylake Beach, but it’s slowly but surely recolonising the developing sand dunes. This plant in late summer produces gorgeous spikes of neon blue flowers which are the single most important nectar source for the Endangered grayling butterfly which can be found nearby.
Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum)
This rare beastie is only found at a few places on Wirral’s coast now, recently including Hoylake’s glorious beach. In late summer, this small, trailing plant produces bright pink flowers and later, inflated seedheads which look like little raspberries.
Images: Josh Styles, unless otherwise credited