Discover the flora and fauna of our fabulous clifftops
Did you know the cliffs are home to some amazing wildlife and have some rare geological features?
In fact, the geological exposures represent one of the most significant sites in Britain for the study of Eocene estuarine sediments. The exposed sandstones are about 45 million years old and were formed in an ancient river estuary.
However, large areas of the cliffs have become dominated by invasive, non-native vegetation, notably Hottentot fig, garden privet and holm oak.
The cliffs support over 300 plant species making them one of the richer botanical sites in the country. There are rare species, some with unusual names such as mossy stonecrop, suffocated clover and hairy bird’s-foot-trefoil which thrive on the dry, sandy soils.
Butterflies are a feature and include Essex skipper and clouded yellow. Several more unusual insects occur such as the bee wolf (a bee-hunting wasp), grey bush-cricket, long-winged conehead and the very rare fly
Cephalops Chlorinae that has been recorded from only one other site in Britain.
The rarest sight here is the Dartford warbler but the cliffs are home to many other birds such as stonechats and kestrels. Sand martins nest in burrows that they excavate in the sandy cliffs. In the summer look out to sea and there is a chance of seeing Sandwich terns plunge diving for sand eels close to the shore. Cormorants can be seen perched on the red groyne markers and, further out to sea, there are often gannets.
The cliffs are particularly important for the nationally rare sand lizard but there are also common lizards and, in certain areas, wall lizards and green lizards can be seen. Wall and green lizards are not native species and were probably deliberately introduced.
Unfortunately, over large areas of the cliffs, the natural plant communities are being damaged and, in some parts, displaced by invasive alien species such as hottentot fig and holm oak. There is a management plan in place which aims to restore as much as possible of the natural habitats. This includes using goats to graze the unwanted scrub. Have you seen the goats on the cliff at Honeycombe Chine?
Whilst you are in the area, why not pay a visit to the Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre to find out much more about the fascinating local wildlife. The centre has many fascinating interactive features which will not only educate but entertain. There is also a programme of events and activities throughout the year and a shop that’s well worth a visit in its own right.
We graze 10 goats on the cliff to the east of Boscombe pier. The first 4 arrived in 2009 and 6 more joined the herd in 2011. They were all brought over from the Isle of Wight where they had been grazing on Bonchurch Down.
Their role is to help control the non-native plants such as holm oak, garden privet and even pampas grass. These plants are taking over at the expense of the natural heathland/grassland habitats and their associated wildlife including rare reptiles, birds and insects.
Funded through a Natural England 10-year Environmental Stewardship Scheme, we will be extending the goat grazing to other parts of the cliffs with the aim of restoring them, as far as possible, to their natural state.
Shy and a little nervous, why not tweet us a picture if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the goats grazing? @bmthparks #goats