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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Wild Flowers and a Bryophyte on the vegetated shingle of Shoreham Beach. 05.06.23

Vegetated shingle is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat. Shoreham Beach is an outstanding example of vegetated shingle. Shoreham Beach can be reached by bus or train. The 700 Stagecoach 700 Bus Route & Timetable: Chichester - Littlehampton | Stagecoach (stagecoachbus.com) or 2 Brighton and Hove 2 - Steyning-Rottingdean | Brighton & Hove Buses stops at Shoreham Bridge. To reach the beach cross the Shoreham foot bridge and walk 750m south.


The photographs are presented chronologically


All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.


I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.


JNCC definition of vegetated shingle


Shingle is defined as sediment with particle sizes in the range 2–200mm. It is a globally restricted coastal sediment type with few occurrences outside north-west Europe, Japan and New Zealand. Shingle beaches are widely distributed round the coast of the UK, where they develop in high energy environments. In England and Wales it is estimated that 30% of the coastline is fringed by shingle. However most of this length consists of simple fringing beaches within the reach of storm waves, where the shingle remains mobile and vegetation is restricted to temporary and mobile strandline communities.


... The origin of coastal shingle varies according to location. In southern England, much of it is composed of flint eroded out of chalk cliffs. Shingle deposits of Ice Age origin lying on the sea bed may be reworked by wave action and re-deposited or moved by longshore drift along the coast.


... Shingle structures are of geomorphological interest. The vegetation communities of shingle features depend on the amount of finer materials mixed in with the shingle, and on the hydrological regime. Classic pioneer species on the seaward edge include sea kale Crambe maritima, sea pea Lathyrus japonicus, Babington’s orache ,Atriplex glabriuscula, sea beet Beta vulgaris, and sea campion Silene uniflora; which can withstand exposure to salt spray and some degree of burial or erosion. ...


Shingle structures sufficiently stable to support perennial vegetation are a comparatively rare feature even in the UK. The major vegetated shingle structures surveyed in 1987–1991 by Sneddon and Randall totalled some 5,000ha in England, 700ha in Scotland, and 100ha in Wales. Dungeness, in southern England, is by far the largest site, with over 2,000ha of shingle, and there are only five other structures over 100ha in extent in the UK.


The main concentrations of vegetated shingle occur in East Anglia and on the English Channel coast... Coastal vegetated shingle (UK BAP Priority Habitat description) (jncc.gov.uk)


Sussex University Beaches at Risk Project


Vegetated shingle is an internationally rare habitat, made up of some highly specialised plant communities.


Annual plants often colonise shingle beaches just above the strandline. Waves wash their floating seeds up onto the shingle in winter; the plants then germinate and complete their development during the summer, only to be carried away by the next autumn’s storms. More varied communities of both annual and perennial plants develop further inland on shingle that is less frequently inundated or wholly beyond the reach of the waves. The richest communities are found at sites, such as Rye Harbour, where large masses of shingle have accumulated because the beach has built outwards into the Channel.


Plants that colonise coastal shingle have to be well adapted to cope with the inhospitable environment. They need to endure copious amounts of salt spray, particularly in winter, as well as frequent high winds. Many species, such as Sea Pea, hug the surface of the shingle, forming mats, to avoid being desiccated or uprooted. Newly deposited shingle can be very unstable and difficult to colonise. However, Sea Campion and Stonecrops develop extensive root systems that very effectively bind loose shingle.


The comparative sterility of beach shingle presents plants with a further problem. Except where rotting seaweed and other organic materials have accumulated, essential nutrients tend to be in short supply. In addition, plants growing close to high water mark risk temporary submergence if an onshore gale happens to combine with a very high tide. It is not unknown for entire plant communities to be washed away during severe storm events.


Plant communities:


Shingle plant communities develop in distinct zones. The first is the ephemeral community, made up of a hardy annual plant called Orache. This may appear as a green haze covering the shingle just above the tide mark. Orache has to complete its life cycle quickly as it is often washed away by the first of the autumn storms. Immediately landward of the Orache is the pioneer community where only a few species are able to grow. Typically there are a few individual plants separated by large areas of bare shingle. These plants help bind the shingle together and allow some soil to build up. The intermediate community is much more diverse, with a mosaic of bare shingle and clumps of vegetation. The most landward zone is the established community. This is a rich community of low-growing plants, mosses and lichens. Shingle plants (sussex.ac.uk)



Silene uniflora, Sea Campion


Campanula posharskyana, Training bellflower; a garden escape


Dactylis glomerata, Cock's-foot


Cenranthus ruber ,Red Valarian - white form


Jacobaea maritima, Silver ragwort


Dipsacus fullonum, Teasel


Echium vulgare, Viper's-bugloss


Bromus hardeaceus, Soft-brome


Peoterium sanguisorba, Small Burnet




Plantago laceolata, Ribwort Plantain


Erigeron glaucus, Seaside Daisy - non native


Crambe maritima, Seal-kale


Sedum album, White Stonecrop


Armeria maritima, Thrift


Tortella crisp-moss; Tortella flavovirens. A seaside moss


Glaucium flavum, Yellow Horn-poppy


Cymbalaria muralis, Ivy-leaved Toadflax


Echium vulgara, Viper's-bugloss


Cistus sp, a Rock Rose


Lagarus ovatus, Hare's-tail


Leucanthemum vulgara, Oxeye Daisy


Crepis vescania subsp taraxacifolia, Beaked Hawk's Beard


Leucanthemum vulgara, Oxeye Daisy


Solanum dulcamara, Bittersweet


Linaria purpurea, Purple Toadflax


Anthyllus vulneraria, Kidney Vetch


Trifolium stellatum, Starry Clover


An annual herb, long-naturalized on shingle in Sussex and recently found at a similar site in South Hampshire. Elsewhere it occurred as a rare casual on waste ground and refuse tips, where it possibly arose as a wool alien. Lowland.


T. stellatum was grown at Kew by 1768 and recorded from the wild in Britain in 1804 at Shoreham (West Sussex), where it has been known ever since. It was first found at Browndown (South Hampshire) in 1998. It seems to have disappeared as a casual; most records of such occurrences were made before 1930, with the last in 1994. https://plantatlas2020.org/atlas/2cd4p9h.m5r


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