9 Nov 2018

Seed Collecting on the Great Orme

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

The Welsh Natives Project has been really chugging along this year, and I can’t believe how much momentum we’ve gained since I took on the job of resurrecting it a year ago. At the beginning of October the Welsh minister for culture, tourism and sport paid a visit to the Welsh Natives compound to hear about the work we’ve been doing, and I’ve been working with our horticulture students to give them their first taste of seed collection in the field. It’s so rewarding to watch the profile of this project grow from strength to strength, and there are very few people my age lucky enough to have a position that they can grow and shape themselves.

The latest adventure for the Welsh Natives Project was a seed collecting trip to the Great Orme, a limestone headland jutting out of the top of Wales, with the Growing the Future project’s science officer Kevin McGinn and PhD student Sarah Carroll. The Millennium Seed Bank is currently helping us to establish our own Welsh seed bank, and so on Wednesday we met Claire and Ian from Wakehurst Place for three days of training and collecting.

Keeping the privet private

The first day of the trip was spent working on the MSB’s UK National Tree Seed Project, which aims to collect seed samples of important native tree species from all over the country. Ian and Claire were aiming to collect Wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare) for that day, an unassuming but charming little shrub in the Olive family. The only fruiting plants we could find on the Orme were kept within a fenced enclosure, and it was a fantastic opportunity to talk about the effects that grazing can have on plants.

You see, a herd of Kashmir goats was released onto the Great Orme over 150 years ago and have been eating it ever since. Whilst shepherds on the Orme take great care with how long their flocks are left to graze specific areas of land, the goats roam freely and are able to reach even the most precarious rock ledge. Within the fenced-off enclosure we found a much higher diversity of plants- wild thyme, rock rose, carline thistle and mouse-ear. Whilst we found plenty of privet outside the enclosure, none of it was producing berries. We couldn’t decide whether it was because the goats were nibbling off all of the new growth of the plant so it couldn’t fruit in the first place, or if they had simply been eating the berries themselves. Whatever the cause, it was an interesting discussion over a pint back in Llandudno that evening!

Seeing old friends

The next day, Kevin continued working with MSB to help them collect their second target species of the trip, Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), from a nearby woodland. Sarah and I met up with Natalie Chivers and Rosemary Kressman of Treborth Botanic Garden instead to collect some of the more common species for displays back in our respective gardens. I’ll be using the seed next year to renovate our Great Orme display in the Welsh Natives Compound.

I’ve been working with the Treborth team almost since I started in this job, working to grow one of the rarest plants in the UK Cotoneaster cambricus. This unassuming shrub is only found on the Great Orme, and thanks to the goats, the sheep, rabbits and the Victorians there are only 6 truly wild plants left clinging to rock crevices. It was a fantastic chance to catch up with Rose again, as we are both working on finding a way to propagate this immensely tricky plant.

By the afternoon, the weather had turned and it was too dangerous to continue on the Orme. The next day we were to head home, but we had just enough time to pop by FossilPlants in Llanberis to see Robbie Blackhall-Miles. FossilPlants is a botanic garden that was set up by Robbie and his partner Ben in their back garden, and I now work with them on a number of small conservation projects around the UK. We stopped in to pick up seed and herbarium specimens (as well as an obligatory cup of tea!), before returning to Llanarthne with our boot packed with botanical treasures.

It was such a valuable experience to see how the best seed bank in the country, probably the world, collect species regardless of rarity. Seed banking and collecting is one of my favourite parts of this job, and I’m looking forward to being involved with setting up our own facilities, safeguarding Welsh botanical material and helping the Millennium Seed Bank to diversify its UK collections for many years to come.