Concern had been expressed by a botanist, resident in Dalgety Bay, that some of the wildflower rich habitat of the woodland end of Downing Point, and the grasslands adjacent to it, were becoming dominated by an encroaching dense stand of Gorse. In addition, Gorse presents a significant fire risk and it was judged that clearing back the Gorse from this important area would further enhance this section for both the public and for wildlife. The grassland area into which the Gorse is spreading has an impressive diversity of wildflowers, and the insects which feed on them, and it is important to try and maintain this. In addition it is an important hunting area for kestrel, a bird that has seen significant declines in recent years.
Surveying the encroaching gorse
Assessing what needs to be done
Getting to grips with cutting
Carrying away the cut material
Cutting up and bagging the gorse
Further Gorse Clearing 4 December 2015
Considering what followed at the weekend after, with heavy rain and widespread flooding, we were very lucky on Friday the 4th December that we had fine weather for the P7 children from Donibristle to come and help clear the gorse that had re-grown in the area we had first cleared in July 2014. Supported by both teachers and DBCWG volunteers, the work was done with care and enthusiasm and further gorse was cleared to expose more of the rocks and thin soil that in the years to come will become home to a selection of the wild flowers and grasses that specialise in growing in these difficult conditions.
It is not that Gorse is a foreign invasive species, it is a native wild flower, but when it grows in rocky areas such as Downing Point it can dominate the landscape and swamp other plant growth. The aim of the clearance work was simply to reduce the area covered by Gorse to give other plants a chance to grow. This means that for anyone visiting this area they will be able to see a range of flowers coming into bloom at different times of the year. Since not all flowers bloom at the same time, this will provide a greater opportunity for pollinating insects to be able to find nectar or pollen to feed on throughout the summer season.
Red-tailed Bumblebee on Cat's Ear
Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Thyme
Small Tortoiseshell on Ragwort
Increasing plant diversity also has other benefits. Moths are one of the most abundant groups of flying insects, but we rarely see the majority of them as they are small, night active, and well camouflaged. They are however an important food source for many birds, either as adults or while still caterpillars. Many moth species are also quite selective in the plant species on which the caterpillars feed. Using data on the species of moth that use the different plant species it is possible to compare the numbers that can be found on Gorse alone (12) with the numbers that can be found on 13 of the different flower species that we know will colonise the cleared area (97). These are all species that are different from those using Gorse, so with extensive Gorse stands remaining, it can be said that clearing a part of it could enable some 109 moth species and their caterpillars to be available to feed small birds, and small mammals such as shrews and bats, that live in the area. These numbers, both for the Gorse and the other plants, are the numbers of different moth species that are known to utilise these plant species in the north of Britain. It is not expected that all of them will be found at this site, it is more an estimate of potential. In additio, there are more flowering plants than the 13 used in this exercise which will develop in place of the Gorse, so there is no doubt about the benefit of the work.
It is not just the moths that will benefit, the grassland above the Gorse patch is home to a colony of Meadow Brown butterflies. Their caterpillars feed on a variety of grass species, and, as these grasses will also expand into some of the cleared area, there should, in turn, be more of these attractive butterflies to be seen.
Meadow Brown Butterfly
So next year the new area should see annuals, such as those found only on these cliff-side areas such as Hare’s-foot Clover and Heath Groundsel; while in time Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Foxglove, Harebell, Thrift, Sea Campion, Thyme, and others, will develop to bring colour to the area for visitors and increasing its biodiversity for wildlife.