MWT Wildflower Walk – Bradda Head

What else could you wish to do on a cool but sunny evening, other than walk along the cliffs, explore nature’s haven and watch the sun set?

A small group of nature lovers met at the Bradda Glen car park, wondering if we were at the right place, when our leader Andree Dubbledam appeared out of the blue, having confessed to falling asleep and almost missing the walk! Such is the laid-back attitude on the Isle of Man that nobody blinked an eye, half-suspecting that this could happen :-). We don’t have the famous manx idiom ‘Trai dy liooar’ for no good reason.

This was a very short walk, only about 1.5 miles in total, and started just steps away from the car park as Andree described how bluebells and ramsoms (wild garlic) colonise different types of terrain just yards away from each other, often on different sides of a path, and how the nutrients leech through the soil making this possible by changing the acidity of the soil. And how the pesky three cornered leek, being a very hardy comeover, and later stopover, is gradually denuding sites of their natural wildlife. It’s hard to be angry with it when it looks so beautiful, but then the bees really do like the bluebells. I didn’t know that the nectar sacs in each tiny flower bud on the bluebell refill every night so there is a constant supply for the birds.

The three-cornered leek

We also began to fall in love a little more with the sycamore trees. At this time of year the leaves were just coming into their lushious greenness, and if were to inspect the leaves you may well see aphids nestling in there, which will become food for the bluetits. Apparently they hibernate in the crevices of the sycamore and provide nourishment for birds during the winter months too.

Then there is the brilliant European Gorse in all its fine yellow, parading over the hills. You can’t miss it. It grows tall and bold, showing the world who’s boss. Occasionally, in between its wide shoulders you can spot samples of the less showy Manx Gorse, which is more compact and smaller. The Manx Gorse flowers later in the year from August to October, so you can expect to see one or other type of gorse flowering at most times during the year.

As we reached the mines area the turf is very very short and it’s hard to imagine that anything much grows here. How often have you stopped to look at what lies beneath your feet, or do you simply tread carefully on your way up to Milner Tower? Andree explained that the earth disturbed by the mine workings brings different elements to the surface that allows flora to grow that otherwise would not. One example of this is the dainty spring sandwort. Unless you are knee thigh to a grasshopper you will find yourself crouching down and searching amongst mosses and plantains to even notice this tiny flower, about half the size of your little fingernail, at best. You may be more familiar with the thyme and plantain, but even they were hard to spot. Hard to believe that some of these will become very noticeable plants as the summer comes along.

The self-conscious tiny spring sandwort

Beside one of the mine shafts we spent a few minutes (or rather Andree did) rummaging about in a very shallow muddy ditch looking for and failing to find any interesting specimens. He did point out a small hawthorn tree amongst the gorse and informed us that given a few centuries this area, if undisturbed, would revert to a natural small woodland.

At this point, shaded by the lofty Milner Tower, and wrapped around by an ever-present breeze, that was occasionally blusterous enough to lift us off our feet, the air turned very cool so rather than continue on along the cliff edge with the prospect of losing a group member off the side of the cliff, we turned inland to examine large tufts of grass. The main path is pretty much devoid of anything other than grass but to either side of it are these small hardened mounds with grass growing over them. One of two had very small areas of shaved earth and loose soil towards the top, which are an indicator of the living residents within. I’m sure you have heard of termite mounds; these are the manx equivalent and are the yellow meadow ants’ home. We didn’t see any because like any sensible creature if it gets cold you go inside, but we were assured that they would be there snuggling up, keeping warm and protecting their young.

The anthills are just a bit further down from here on either side of the path, though these could be some small anthills developing.

From here it was a short walk back to Bradda Glen, and for me a further walk back home along the cliff edge where I spied a number of other spring flowers that adorn the cliffs at this time of year, such as squill, sea campion, red campion, thift, primroses and the occasional brilliant white bluebell.

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