North Walney National Nature Reserve
Walney Island is an 11 mile x 1 mile island attached by a bridge to the town of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, UK. The central part of the island, around the bridge, is a large housing area built to serve the shipyard across the bridge. To the south is the older village of Biggar and to the north the village of North Scale. The southern and northern tips of the island are both managed as nature reserves. The southern one is an RSPB managed bird reserve. At the north is a reserve managed by Natural England to provide habitat for the endangered Natterjack Toad. Both reserves also have a rich flora and are especially noted for shingle beach plants such as this Sea Kale.
The highest point on the island does not exceed 20 metres above sea level, mostly much lower and we occasionally got cut off in our village by high tides covering the main road to the bridge. Walney is also one of the windiest places in England and one of the sunniest places in the North of the country.
For gardeners the island is significant as the source of the pale pink form of Geranium sanguineum. Now known as var. striatum it was once called var. lancastriense after its Lancastrian origins (this part of Cumbria was in Lancashire until 1974). This variety is endemic to Walney and is found mixed with the normal magenta form in just a few places on the island.
Susan grew up in the centre of the island (as did her father’s family). When we married I moved to the island and we lived in the village of North Scale, just a short walk from the north end nature reserve. Consequently I grew to know the place well during the 16 years we lived there. Though we now live 50 miles away it is still a favourite place to visit and has the best secluded beach in Northern England – ideal for walking Molly – and you may recognise the location from earlier posts.
The reserve has little vehicle access and is also separated from much of the island by the airfield owned by the shipyard (seen as a triangle in the aerial photos above). Since the road access washed out in a storm surge a few years ago the vehicle access is even more restricted and it is a good two miles walk along the beach to the reserve from the nearest parking.
The reserve is especially unique because of the diversity of habitats it offers in a small area. The seaward side is dominated by dunes, dune slacks and abandoned gravel pits, now ponds with abundant wildlife. The soil here is alkaline. On the leeward side of the reserve are mudflats and areas of acidic soil that hosts an entirely different flora. There is even a tiny area of heath and raised bog with carnivorous sundew plants if you know where to look – it is off the path and not visible from it and the area is no bigger than a living room. The rare Alpine Bartsia (not pictured) also grows nearby – an almost unique occurrence down at sea level.
So now to some pretty flower pictures:
Firstly the shingle beach plants starting with various colours forms of the wild Pansy (Viola tricolor):
Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)
The Sea Pea and Birdsfoot Trefoil:
Sea Spurge and Silene maritima:
The damper areas behind the dunes are host to a number of Orchids. Here are Dactylorhiza incarnata, D. purpurella and my favourite UK Orchid the Marsh Helleborine – Epipactis palustris:
The more acidic areas are home to plants such as the carnivorus sundew:
Finally we reach my favourite area where the Geranium (both colours) grows intermingled with Burnett rose (kept very short by grazing – huge flowers on tiny stems) and the Sea Bindweed:
I did once set about drawing a poster to illustrate these plants but have never finished it. Here is the work in progress – containing my first ever attempt at a landscape (in graphite) in the middle: