A New Find for Wiltshire – Sea Fern-grass Discovered on A30

The first recorded sighting of Sea Fern-grass (Catapodium marinum) has been confirmed on the Protected Road Verge at Thorny Down on the A30 near Salisbury.

Local volunteer recorder, Anne Appleyard, made this exciting discovery when recording the wildlife on the verge. Anne said “I was looking mainly at the flora of the banks, including young Junipers, but just happened to notice the Sea Fern-grass right on the edge of the road, where the verge would be affected by salt spray. It was looking very brown and shrivelled when I found it, but is very distinctive, even in that state”.

Taking a sample to send to the County Recorder for plants for confirmation, Anne explains how this predominantly coastal species, usually found in dry bare places by the sea, has been recorded in Wiltshire “It is one of those normally coastal plants that are spreading inland along the edges of roads treated with de-icing salt. I expect that it will be found by other main roads where there are other salt- tolerant plants, but walking along such roads is not very pleasant, which may be why mine is the first record!”

Thorny Down road verge was designated under the Protected Road Verge Scheme back in 1997 for its species-rich chalk downland flora where colourful and diverse vegetation has developed on the chalk cutting and embankment slopes.

The Protected Road Verge scheme, which has been running since 1970 and is a partnership project between Wiltshire Council and the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre, currently has over fifty road verges throughout the county that are designated as Protected Road Verges because of their special habitat, species or ecological interest. Verges given protected status are carefully selected and have to meet rigorous criteria.

Vicki James, Data Officer for Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre said “Each verge has a volunteer who checks on the condition of the verge and records the wildlife found there. We are always looking for more people to volunteer to record sightings so we hope that Anne’s discovery will galvanise more people to come forward and help us record species. Who knows what new species we will find next?”

Asked about what qualifications someone needs to get involved, Vicki commented: “Qualifications in botany are not required and full support will be given to anyone joining the volunteer scheme. We don’t need people to be experts, just keen to learn and record finds.”

Find out more about the scheme, and how to become a verge monitor, by logging on to www.wsbrc.org.uk. Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre is situated in the headquarters of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.