Although the Sefton Coast is very well botanised, no one person could possibly keep track of all its special plant species (although Phil Smith makes a valiant effort!). And so it is that every couple of years local naturalists get together to carry out extensive surveys of one species or a small group of plants so that we know how they are doing and can compare to previous data.
This year, the target species was Parnassia palustris, or grass-of-Parnassus, a very handsome plant with rather snazzy white flowers and heart-shaped leaves (nothing like a grass at all, confusingly):
Parnassia likes marshy places with a basic influence – I saw it last year in flushes in Cumbria – and on the Sefton Coast it can be found in dune slacks, provided that they are fairly damp and not too overgrown with scrub.
Having familiarised ourselves with the plant and its preferred habitats on training sessions provided by the inestimable Phil Smith, over 40 volunteers were allocated dune slacks and set out to count how many plants of Parnassia there were in each one.
I arrived at “my” dune slack, in a particularly nice part of the Birkdale dunes, and immediately saw plenty of Parnassia around the southern edge. Nice, I thought, plenty to do here, it’ll take me a while to count this lot. I began counting, and it was then that I realised – that large area of reeds in the middle which I had automatically dismissed as being unsuitable wasn’t as dense as I had thought – and there was Parnassia scattered all through it !
After a mammoth session I had counted over 7,000 plants…. it goes without saying that I’ve never seen that many Parnassia plants together in one place before. Amazing. One of the things I really love about living where I do is the sheer number of gorgeous wildlife sites within just a couple of hours’ drive and the Sefton Coast is definitely one of them.