Trip reports

Volunteering at Aberlady

Volunteering at Aberlady
Wild marjoram - Jon Brown

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Eight Group members joined with Warden John Harrison's "regular" volunteers for a fascinating day of searching for and counting some of the locally and nationally rare plants which are found on the reserve.

The recent heavy rain required use of wellies, with the depth coming dangerously close to the top. We were each counting the presence or absence of three plants in a one metre square area as we slowly advanced one step at a time in a line across the pond.

Marsh stitchwort, a small straggly plant with a white flower, found mainly in East Anglia and Ireland and declining in numbers, but rare in Scotland, was fairly easy to identify once we has "got our eye in" and separated it from a much more common look-alike. Grey club-rush required the brackish water which the site provides and is locally rare throughout the UK, due to the specialised habitat requirements. Our third species on this site was the nationally scarce Fen pondweed with oval, translucent leaves found completely submerged rooted underwater.

A second group on dry grassland near the path used GPS to map the location of wild marjoram, with eleven clumps found. It is the same species as the classic aromatic Mediterranean herb often used in cooking. The pink flowers attract many pollinators but although it is widespread in much of Britain it is largely absent in central, northern and western Scotland. The plant requires dry, chalk or limestone grassland and we saw how it was crowded out as soon as the grass became too long, so careful site management is required for the species to thrive.

Our final plant was houndstongue. A biennial herb of disturbed ground, growing mostly on dry soils including coastal dunes. It is unpalatable to grazing animals and has declined sharply since the 1950s, loss of habitat and herbicide spraying being major factors. The name houndstongue comes from the belief that it could ward off dog attacks if a leaf was worn in the shoe. Herbalists used the plant as a treatment for piles, lung diseases and persistent coughs with the ointment said to cure baldness and be used for sores and ulcers. These uses are not supported by scientific evidence! Some old records in Northern Scotland and Ireland are considered to be relics of cultivation by herbalists. 243 plants were recorded on the site.

This was a fascinating visit and taught us all about the many plants on the site and methods used for their monitoring and maintenance. It makes all our work to remove and control sea buckthorn worthwhile.

Margaret Harrison