Secretary's Notes

Richard Pryce

Destroyed! Small-flowered CatchflyThe report in my last Secretary’s Notes of October 2001 which criticised the lack of care afforded by Carmarthenshire County Council to the important flora and faunal occurring at Burry Port Harbour has been overwhelmingly endorsed by the events of week or two ago when many of the special plants growing on the dock walls were destroyed by complete and unnecessary removal of all vegetation, soil and mortar from the wall aprons, accompanied by excessive herbiciding. For several years I have campaigned for Carmarthenshire County Council to practice a more sympathetic management regime in their treatment of the whole harbour area. The frequent mowing of the turf destroys the flower and seed-producing ability of plants such as the attractive and scarce, bluish-purple-flowered Hedgerow Crane’s-bill (Geranium pyrenaicum) which has its most extensive population in the county near the West Dock.  Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), a beautiful yellow legume and the food plant of the rare Small Blue butterfly which somehow hangs-on at Burry Port despite the incessant destruction of its host, together with a whole list of other rare and scarce plants are regularly mal-treated despite the Council having been told of their importance in at least four Environmental Impact Statements which were commissioned by themselves.

Last October, I wrote, “Burry Port Harbour provides a refuge for several plant species which no-longer grow anywhere else in the county although they were more frequent in the past. The exact locations of these plants have been pointed out to the Authority in their own commissioned Reports. Despite this, the most vulnerable (in a national context), the Small-flowered Catchfly (Silene gallica) narrowly missed extermination when the tarmac was laid to provide the new cycle-way on the northern side of the inner docks. It continues to hang-on just by chance, as the Authority’s mowing contractors are not instructed to treat it with special care. The plant is listed as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan because of its recent severe decline nationally, and Local Authorities have an obligation under national legislation to provide for the conservation and well-being of this and other such species.  Carmarthenshire County Council is committed to, and, indeed, well advanced with, its own Local Biodiversity Action Plan and Small-flowered Catchfly is a species for which an Action Plan will be written in the next tranche. It will be ironic if the species is destroyed before the Plan is even written!” . In fact I completed the draft Small-flowered Catchfly Action Plan for the Council and submitted it to them in February this year.

It is indeed ironic for, as I start my term as President of the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI), the Council’s shameful lack of care is shown in their failure to take full account of the bio-diversity in its custodianship. The Small-flowered Catchfly is destroyed. Not only are the plants gone but also the soil in which they once thrived has been removed, thus preventing any possible regeneration from the seed bank. Members of the BSBI attending the Welsh AGM in 1999 were excited by the variety of the vegetation and the considerable number of scarce species which occur at the site. But not only has the Small-flowered Catchfly been destroyed, populations of many of the other noteworthy species have suffered including Dwarf Mallow (Malva neglecta), Round-leaved Crane’s-bill (Geranium rotundifolium), Pale Flax (Linum bienne), Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and Knotted Clover (Trifolium striatum). Council staff have been aware of the botanical importance of the harbour for several years and only last October, I personally showed the hot-spots to a member of their staff when the construction of the sill across the harbour entrance commenced.

Former site of Dwarf Mallow (Malva neglecta) at Burry Port Harbour Sill construction site, 19 April 2002. © Photo R.D.PryceThis, of course follows the verge-spraying fiasco of only 18 months ago when about 40 miles of the flowery verges of the A48, the approach road to the then newly established National Botanic Garden of Wales, were burned-off as a ‘welcome’ to visitors to both the Garden and the county newly promoted as the Garden of Wales!  Since then, Carmarthenshire County Council have adopted a more enlightened Roadside Verge Maintenance Policy calling for  only one cut per year, not mowing before mid June and mowing only one swathe on straight stretches in rural areas. However, we continue to see the main approach roads to Ammanford, Carmarthen and Llanelli, including the M4 Link Road and several other obviously rural highways, treated as urban roads in their management. This is totally inappropriate in these locations and includes mowing over the whole width of their, often wide verges, several times during the growing season.  This year these roads have already been mown right to the tops or bottoms of embank-ments, totally unnecessarily, not only against the more appropriate rural verge policy but also to the detriment of their flora and fauna and to the flowery attractiveness of the road corridor.  The policy further states: “Road verge maintenance is a costly exercise, finance for which must come largely from a limited budget which must also provide for a wide range of other highway functions, including a large backlog of repairs  required to restore roads to their optimum condition.” The cost of this unnecessary ‘maintenance’ could surely be spent more wisely as indicated by this, the Council’s own policy statement. Carmarthenshire County Council must be applauded for the strides they have made in progressing their Biodiversity Action Plan and in recognising the ecological importance of the Millennium Coastal Park. However, they must strive to improve by being more rigorous in the translation of their policies into actions on the ground, in order that our biodiversity does not continue to suffer.  We must keep-up the pressure on them to take more seriously, and deliver their Biodiversity Commitment.  We continue to see the degradation of our local flora and fauna but what hope can there be for the future if the Council will not even follow its own adopted policies?


The Small-flowered Catchfly site photographed on 5th May 2002  after its devastation by the removal of  all vegetation including the soil and mortar from between capping stones and excessive herbiciding. © Photo R.D.Pryce The site of Small-flowered Catchfly  on the northern wall of the West Inner Dock, Burry Port Harbour photographed on 3rd June 2001  When more than 50 plants of this Nationally Scarce and  UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species were in flower. © Photo R.D.Pryce

My thanks to Ian Morgan for again editing, writing or eliciting much of the content of this Newsletter, to Barry Stewart for the egret photo and to Kath Cottingham for contributing, typing and helping with its production. Also thanks to all other contributors.

Recently we have been having problems with our Public Liability Insurance as the BTCV insurers will no longer cover affiliated bodies, of which we are one. This has resulted in our annual premium  increasing from £55 to nearly four times that amount for grossly inferior cover. We were told that the events of September 11th were to blame.  We continue to search for a better deal but in the meantime have been forced to accept this offer although we must warn members, not only that they may longer be covered in certain circumstances, but also that if we cannot  reduce this amount we will not be able to afford insurance which may even force us to disband the society in its present form.

The programme of talks and field meetings taking us through to spring 2003 is printed inside the back cover of this Newsletter.  I thank you for your continued support and look forward to seeing you in the near future.

Richard Pryce,  21 May 2002