Telling Wildflower Stories

This summer I’ve been taking local people out and about along the Cleveland Coast looking for wildflowers on the beaches with the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust.me at south gare photo by SueAnd up cliffs (It’s just like plant hunting that adventurers go on in foreign places, except that you get home in time for tea). More on the Cleveland Coast Project here.IMG_20150704_143827We held 14 different walks on mornings, afternoons and evenings, and yes…at the weekends too so everyone had the opportunity to join in, and we had 257 participants.

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What we tried to do was to take people out to the plants (which were spectacular) and then talk about how the habitat they are living in is intertwined with the actions of local people both now and in the past.

Let me give you an example – Purple milk-vetch – nationally classed as endangered  due to habitat loss – stunningly beautiful, and all over the back of some dunes at South Gare where it grows near masses of Harebells.

IMG_2579And in that picture of Harebells is your clue – that’s the local (Redcar) steelworks, the one that’s been in the news because it has just been shut down. Well…the spot where all these plants are growing didn’t exist as dry land before 1860 (it was sea and mudflats) when a two and a half mile Gare protecting the south side of the mouth of the River Tees was started. They used slag, the calcareous waste product of the local steel industry (there was a lot more of it in those days) plus a bit of concrete and officially opened in 1888.

IMG_2623Since that time sand has been slowly accumulating….by the 1920’s it was one of the flattest stretches of beach in the country and the land speed record was attempted several times. And more and more sand has accumulated since then until that ‘Goldilocks’ moment when the conditions were just right for Purple Milk-vetch to grow; which is now. Imagine that… dumping of industrial waste creates a perfect habitat for Purple Milk-vetch after 150 years. Not every action has a predictable outcome.

IMG_2361IMG_2330IMG_2634We’ve also been asking people to upload photographs they’ve taken of coastal wildflowers to our website and then I’ve been naming them.  751 photographs by over 40 people are now available to view (see here and click on a thumbnail), so even local people who can’t get out much can see what we were privileged to enjoy over the summer.IMG_1123 - Copy

Until 18th November there is a photograph exhibition at the Palace Hub Gallery in Redcar showcasing some of the best from the project competition we held – I wrote about the opening evening here.

Did the project work? Yes, but we need more small local projects like this. Why not ask your Wildlife Trust if they will apply for a grant to run one in your area?

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