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How many plants are there at Cabin Hill?

Phil Smith and Grass of Parnassus Richard Burkmar/MEAS
The author photographing Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) at Cabin Hill.

One of the less well-known parts of the Sefton Coast is Cabin Hill National Nature Reserve, extending over 28.4ha (70 acres) of dunes and sandy fields between Ravenmeols and Altcar Rifle Range. The reserve was leased by the Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England) in 1985 and formally declared in 1991.

During the 1940s and 1950s, large parts of the site were extracted for sand and, because of a perceived weakening of coastal defences, a flood barrier bank 750m long was constructed in 1970/71. This created a series of shallow borrow-pits which flood in winter and have developed wet-slack vegetation.

Open quotesThe reserve has long been known to be botanically richClose quotesThe reserve has long been known to be botanically rich. In 1987, the then warden, Peter Gateley, drew up a list of 314 vascular species and sub-species that he had found on the reserve and adjacent trackways. Recent field work has enabled this list to be revised and updated. Including hybrids and deleting a few species that were outside the reserve boundary, gives a new total of 354 vascular plants. Of these, 53 (15%) are non-native or introduced natives (a relatively low figure), while 41 (12%) are nationally or regionally notable. About 28 plants have not been seen for some years and may have been lost from the reserve but, coincidentally, the same number has been added to the reserve list, following management in 2005 to remove a dense clump of willow scrub which had colonised a former wet-slack over a period of 30 years.

Open quotesCompared to other sand-dune sites on the coast, Cabin Hill has a relatively high plant diversity, supporting 31.4% of all the vascular plants found on the dunesClose quotesCompared to other sand-dune sites on the coast, Cabin Hill has a relatively high plant diversity, supporting 31.4% of all the vascular plants found on the dunes. This is perhaps mainly due to the wide range of habitats present, from embryo dunes by the shore to woodland and including a large area of slacks. Active management, such as scrub control and winter-grazing by sheep, has undoubtedly helped to improve botanical richness.

See the full plant list here: Cabin Hill plant list.

Author: Dr Phil Smith, March 2008.