Visitors to Landguard often ask whether the abundant rabbits here are a nuisance. They also ask why there are a couple of areas roped off on the grassland that don’t appear to be doing anything.
Landguard Point would look completely different were it not for the rabbits and their grazing is an important element in both managing the site and its conservation value. Those roped off areas that aren’t “doing anything” are rabbit free enclosures which show what Landguard would look like were all the rabbits removed. Without them the site would be full of long tall grass and a lot less plant species. Because the rabbits constantly nibble the plants and keep them in check, no single plant species is able to establish dominance and a huge variety of different plant species can flourish.
It’s easy to miss the plants and their flowers in the grassland. They are all miniaturized by the rabbits’ constant nibbling. All along Viewpoint Road the tall blue spires of the viper’s bugloss are abundant now, but where it occurs in the grassland it is much smaller, often only a few inches high (compare to the size of the secateurs in the picture).
Other plants are much harder to spot in the grassland but once you have seen one you get your eye in and realize they’re everywhere, such as this Common Stork’s Bill. Thanks to Bryan for the great picture of this tiny flower.
I wanted to understand what the reference to a stork’s bill was. I did some research and learnt that part of the plant remains attached to the seed after it is shed and this looks like a stork’s bill. This part dries out and curls into a spiral. After it rains it uncurls again, and helps to drill the seed into the ground. There’s a great close-up picture of the seed here: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/214/4/i.1.short
Scarlet pimpernel is another abundant plant in the grassland at Landguard. It is also known as “Poor Man’s Weatherglass” because the flowers only open in sunlight. In northern Europe it has red flowers but in Southern Europe a blue flowered form exists.
There are quite a number of yellows at Landguard in addition to the beautiful Yellow-Horned Poppy. One carpeting the grassland at the moment is Bird’s Foot Trefoil whose seed pods splay out like a bird’s foot. There are more than 70 common names for this plant including “Eggs and Bacon” (the plant turns from yellow to red as it gets older) and “Granny’s Toe Nails”!
Another yellow that has started to appear in the last week or so belongs to the Biting Stonecrop. “Biting” refers to the taste which is peppery. It stores water in its succulent leaves and also has a waxy coating on them which helps to minimize the loss of water vapour - a perfectly adapted plant for Landguard.
As well as the bramble and dog rose thorns a rather more unusual thorn has been spotted in the grassland. During a recent school visit, a sharp-eyed boy called Charlie found three of these “thorns” in the grassland and he very kindly let me keep one.
They were very hard to the touch and definitely not plant in origin, perhaps some kind of shell, but beyond that I had no idea what it was. The thorn became known as the “mystery object” and for about a week I could not find anyone who might know what they were. Then someone was able to identify them for me: they are the thorns from a thornback ray. You can see a wonderful picture of one here:
But there is still the mystery of how this particular thorn ended up in the grassland.