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Nature Notes - May 2017

Nature Notes

I am now in Bexhill on duty with my wife caring for my elderly Mother-In-Law.  However, the weather is beautiful and the sea calm.  A few weeks ago I saw a Seal swimming about 100 metres off the beach moving due west.  I often write about the change of seasons, but rarely about how this affects marine organisms.  The temperature off the coast of Southern England normally varies from about100C in the winter to about 180C in late summer.  In recent years it has reached 200C on occasion.  The sea tends to be rougher in the winter with storms moving huge amounts of material such as pebbles and sand.  These storms also cause the erosion of cliffs, and coastal soil.  The coast-line is forever changing.

The animals in the sea also move with the seasons, and cold water fish like Cod will migrate north in the spring.  Later in early summer baby Herring will move north followed by Mackerel which feed on them as they move.  Cuttlefish will lay their eggs among coastal rocks and these will hatch out to produce a new generation.  Meanwhile the older Cuttlefish die and quickly decay leaving only their white Cuttlebone which often washes up on our shores in large numbers.  In recent years, marine nature reserves have been created off the coast of Sussex.

Meanwhile, on the beaches, plants, which because of their habit of growing near the sea, are called halophytes or salt-loving, are emerging through the pebbles and sand.  These halophytes include Sea Kale, Sea Beet, Yellow Horned Poppy, Rock Samphire and Thrift.  These plants cannot grow away from the coast, just as other plants such as Foxgloves, Primroses, Violets and Celandines cannot grow on a beach.

In Bexhill and other places in Southern England we also have a rather beautiful alien invader called Hottentot Fig, brought here by Humans from South Africa, which likes to grow on cliff edges and has a lovely white or pink flower.  However, like many other alien invaders, this plant takes over habitat normally occupied by native species.  A fascinating and tasty native plant with the Latin name Salicornia, that tends to grow on salty mud-flats is Glasswort, also known as Marsh Samphire and Pickleweed, because it can be pickled in vinegar, this is often sold in French shops as Salicorne.

Dr. Martyn Stenning