Croeso Network

Flora and Fauna on the Great Orme

Unlike certain parts of Britain, which have seen dramatic environmental changes and the destruction of many natural habitats by man, the Great Orme has altered little. Growing all over the headland are a variety flowers, which developed in the wake of the last Ice-Age and still retain their arctic character despite the warmer climate. 

The shallow lime-rich earth supports more than its fair share of botanical rarities, but the rarest of them all must surely be the Cotoneaster (c. integerrimus), which is unique to the Great Orme and is only found growing in the more remote and inaccessible corners of the headland. 

During the spring and early summer, flowers such as Bloody Cranesbill, Thrift and Sea Campion cling to the sheer rock face, while Pyramidal Orchid, Common Rockrose and Wild Thyme carpet the grassland creating spectacular display of colour. Even the old mines and quarries provide suitable habitat for numerous species of plants and animals. Spring Squill is  often abundant, growing on the old copper workings. 

There are many interesting theories surrounding the origins of the Whit Horehound (marrubium vulgare), which is found growing on the western-most slopes of the Orme. Legend has it that the downy white plant was cultivated by fourteenth century monks, who supposedly lived in the now ruined Bishops' Palace, whilst others believe it to be indigenous to the area. Each year the delicate and extremely rare Horehound Plume Moth (pterophorus spilodactylus) lays her eggs amongst the silky leaves. The caterpillar relies solely upon this one foodplant for survival. 

Among the many quirks of the Great Orme, are the two species of butterfly which have developed characteristics peculiar to the area. The Silver Studded Blue (plebejus argus ssp. caernesis) and the Grayling (hipparchia ssp. semele thyone) have adapted to life on the headland by appearing much earlier in the year in order to feed on the tiny limestone flowers and grasses. They are also far smaller than their relatives in other parts of the country and are recognised as being a definite sub-species or race. 

Every spring and summer a frenzied scene is enacted. The air is filled with the cries of hundreds of Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Guillemots, as they come back to nest on the narrow cliff ledges. Fulmars are often visible on the rocks above the Marine Drive. They did not breed on the Great Orme until the middle of this century, when the expansion of deep-sea trawling produced an abundance of fish offal, which encouraged the birds to follow the vessels south from Iceland. 

Despite harsh extremes created by the tides, rockpools around the headland are a rich and varied world in which specialist communities of plants and animals flourish. Barnacles sieve Plankton from the sea with their feathery limbs, then withdraw when the tide retreats. Hermit Crabs scuttle about searching for new shells and Red Beadlet Anemones ensnare small creatures in their Medusa-like tentacles. 

In the sea below Pen Trwyn, Grey Seal often take advantage of this more sheltered stretch of coastline and Bottlenose Dolphin are known to frequent these waters during the warmer weather. Occasionally Basking Shark may be seen cruising through the sea, with their vast mouths gaping wide, a great triangular dorsal fin giving away their presence.

The Great Orme has always had a dynamic nature, and the immense variety of habitat and wildlife that we see today has come about through the continual and unrelenting process of change on Earth. Such great diversity has been created by forces, rhythms and the passage of many millions of years.

Reproduced from the booklet
'The Great Orme Llandudno's Mountain' by P. Bardell and T. Parry.
Illustrations by E. Parry

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