The Coastal Plants of Somerset with Dr Helena Crouch

Our final online talk of the season this April welcomed botanist Dr Helena Crouch. Helena is  Vice-County Recorder for the north part of Somerset on behalf the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland and an active member of Somerset Rare Plants Group. During “The Coastal Plants of Somerset” she discussed the plants she studies on the Somerset Coast between the estuaries of the Rivers Avon and Parrot. Some of these have amazingly made their way inland to places like Bath and Keynsham, especially in the vicinity of salt storage facilities.

Photo: Helianthemum apenninum at Brean Down

This stretch of coastline incorporates habitats as diverse as salt marshes, dunes, stable dune grassland, scrub and freshwater lagoons.
There are three main challenges these plants have to overcome: salinity, wind and drought. There are only so many plants that can grow in these conditions. Helena said that 85% of the British plants could not do so. A good number of the plants that can, are very rare, for instance the Goldilocks Aster is now found in only six UK sites, in the SW of England and Wales.

Photo: Aster linosyris (Goldilocks Aster)

Many coastal plants have adapted in various ways to combat the challenges: Some are low growing species hugging the ground, with deep roots giving them stability from the wind and also reaching the lower water table. Available moisture can be reduced if the ground is very free draining, as in sandy soils and beaches. Coastal plants cope with the salinity by having high levels of salt in their tissues and this allows water uptake though osmosis. Cylindrical stems and leaves and hairy surfaces also help protect from drought, with some plants having plates of wax coating surfaces to stop their tissues drying out and also deflecting sunlight.

During Helena’s talk we were led on a walk along the Somerset coastline visiting the many different habitats and discovering the species that live there. Some of the plants mentioned were found in awkward outcrops of rocks proving both a physical challenge as well as a good test of Helena’s nerve. This passionate and dedicated plants-woman, however, overcame these obstacles to add to her records of the plants found on the coast of Somerset.

Photo: Armeria maritima and Birnbeck Pier

Glaux maritima at Sand Bay
Limonium procerum at Sand Point
Asplenium marinum on Brean Down
Helena is such a busy lady with her extensive knowledge of botany, in our region particularly, and her talents are spread far and wide. Anyone wishing to see her work for Somerset Rare Plants Register can visit the SRPG website HERE where her detailed descriptions of many plants can be found. This work is ongoing!
County recorder Helena working on a skills pyramid at a training event
Helena identifying plants with Somerset Rare Plants Group
Article by Andrew Harrison
Youtube video recording of the talk
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