Sixteen members and friends met at the RSPB carpark, Marshside, from where the group encamped to Hesketh Road about 1km to the south-west to begin an exploration of the recently developed tidal saltmarsh at the mouth of the Ribble Estuary. The leaders, Phil Smith and Patricia Lockwood, first pointed out a number of young willow bushes growing out of cracks in the concrete seawall. These included the nationally rare Salix×friesiana, as well as a much more frequent hybrid, thought to be Salix ×holosericea (Silky-leaved Osier).
Descending to the saltmarsh, we were soon trying to unravel the complexities of Salicornia (Glasswort) identification. Four reasonably distinct taxa were quickly found – the red-tinged Purple Glasswort S. ramosissima, bright-green Common Glasswort S. europaea, dull-green Long-stalked Glasswort S. dolichostachya and the golden Yellow Glasswort S. fragilis. A little more searching revealed Common and Lax-flowered Sea-lavenders Limonium vulgare and L. humile, though both had finished flowering. A short walk fortuitously brought us to a specimen of the rare hybrid sea-lavender L. ×neumanii, which still retained many of its distinctive magenta flowers. Phil described his researches with Patricia into the sea-lavenders since 2008, when only a handful of plants were found. This summer, over 230 individuals of the three taxa were recorded.
Other typical species of the saltmarsh included scattered plants of Sea Purslane Atriplex portulacoides, the ubiquitous Sea Aster Aster tripolium now mainly in seed, Annual Sea-blite Suaeda maritima, Sea Plantain Plantago maritima and the superficially similar Sea Arrow-grass Triglochin maritima. These were growing out of a dense sward of Common Saltmarsh-grass Puccinellia maritima, interspersed with scattered Common Cord-grass Spartina anglica.
Returning towards the seawall, we spent some time exploring an accumulation of shell-rich sand where a well-developed strandline supported several plants of Babington’s Orache Atriplex glabriuscula as well as masses of the more usual Spear-leaved Orache A. prostrata and occasional plants of Grass-leaved Orache A. littoralis. Sea Sandwort Honckenya peploides was also a feature of this bank. Closer examination eventually revealed a few specimens of the uncommon hybrid Kattegat Orache Atriplex ×gustafssoniana. Being a plant that most participants had not seen before, this was one of the highlights of the trip. All the target species having been found, the group headed back well pleased with the afternoon’s entertainment.
Philip H. Smith
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