Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ardmore Point, Argyll and Bute - SSSI, SPA & Ramsar Site

The shore areas covered on this walk along the Clyde (from Cardross to Ardmore Point) form a part of 3 different designated protected sites: the Inner Clyde Site of Special Scientific Importance (SSSI), the Inner Clyde Ramsar Site and Inner Clyde Special Protection Area (SPA).

This section of the River Clyde shoreline is an SSSI because it contains saltmarsh (intertidal vegetation such as eelgrasses) and because it supports significant numbers of wintering birds, in particular: Eider, Cormorant, Goldeneye, Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver and Redshank.

Around 2100 Redshank feed here outside the breeding season (this being the reason for both SPA and Ramsar Site status).

Recent reports of Quail in central Scotland sparked predictions of a 'quail invasion' and tempted me to walk along these coastal arable fields, knowing I'd be lucky to even glimpse one.

Ardmore Point
Ardmore Point at low tide

I got a train from Dalmuir to Cardross (£6.60 return) and followed the footpath along the water's edge to Ardmore Point. In Cardross bay at low tide, House Martins collected mud from the shore for nest-building.
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium) grows in large mauve-flowered clumps on the beach near Cardross saw mill.

Dougal Winchburg brick

The African savannah? Or Scotland on a sunny (!) day?

fields Cardross
Fields near Cardross

fields Cardross
Fields near Cardross

Between Cardross and Ardmore Point the upper shore is rock/shingle, separated from the muddy lower shore by a band of slippery green algae and dark fucoid seaweed. Not the prettiest of shorelines, but the mud is packed with invertebrates and provides excellent feeding grounds for the veritable 'motorway' of birds channeling through in autumn/winter.

A rich variety of wildflowers, encompassing every colour of the rainbow, flourish on the edge of the arable fields: some are coastal species, some are arable weeds and others, garden escapees or naturalized exotics.

Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium flower
Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium bud
Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) unopened flower

The delicate white, gramophone-esque flowers of Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) poked their trumpets through the bramble bushes. It actually belongs to the same family as Sweet Potatoe (Convolvulaceae) but is known to have purgative effects (hence, inedible).

Red Campion Silene dioica
Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Canadian Goldenrod Solidago canadensis
Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is a widely naturalized, North American relative of our native Goldenrod (S.virgaurea).

The two can be distinguished by their flower arrangement:-
  • Canadian Goldenrod has smaller-petalled 'tufty' flowers which form a distinctly PYRAMIDAL pannicle (arrangement). 
  • Our native Goldenrod has loose, narrow pannicles of larger, fewer-petalled 'daisy-like' flowers
The leaves of all Solidago species contain a latex which Thomas Edison (the inventor of the lightbulb) used to manufacture rubber during a series of experiments beginning in the late-1920s (with the aim of discovering cheaper, home-grown alternatives to Indian rubber). There is an interesting page on this story here - with photos of the Goldenrod rubber.

Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens
Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis Sempervirens)

Another non-native, Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis Sempervirens) is a strikingly beautiful plant nonetheless. As you might expect from the colour of its flowers, it's closely related to Borage and Forget-me-nots (Boraginaceae).
Its scientific name, a mix of Latin and Greek, means 'Five-tongued always-green' (Penta = five + glottis = tongue: from Greek glōtta, Attic form of Ionic glōssa, semper = always + virens = to be green/verdant: Latin).

Greater Sand Spurrey Spergularia media
Greater Sand Spurrey (Spergularia media)

There are other very similar Spergularia species but Greater Sand Spurrey (Spergularia media) can be identified by these 3 key features:

1) Hairless.
2) Flowers have petals LONGER than sepals.
3) 10 stamens.

Pale Toadflax Linaria repens
Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens)

Pale Toadflax is a naturalized non-native which mostly grows in dry, rocky waste ground habitats.

Sea Aster Aster tripolium
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium)

Sea Aster Aster tripolium
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium)

Despite looking a lot like the common garden-escapee Michaelmas Daisy, Sea Aster is one of our 2 native Aster species. It's a saltmarsh and maritime specialist able to tolerate high salinities.

Sea Aster Recipes: 

Buttered Sea Aster
Sea Aster Fish Bake
Sea Aster and Tomato Soup

Inland from Ardmore south bay (near Ardardan), I had excellent views of a singing Sedge Warbler. Also, flocks of Starling and House Sparrow. Ardmore north bay was filled with Curlew.

lichen white

Aspen bark
Aspen bark

Ardmore point cattle

Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

When crushed in the hand, Mugwort releases a strong and deliciously medicinal aroma, reminiscent of absinthe. In fact, it belongs to the same genus as Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): the chief flavouring in absinthe.

Unlike most members of the daisy family (Asteraceae), it has wind-pollinated flowers.

Mugwort has been used for centuries worldwide in traditional herbal medicine, particularly for treating worms, menstrual cramps and digestive complaints. It was also used as a flavouring in beer (before hops) and food (especially in Asian cookery). Experiments show that it has insecticidal (mosquitoes and beetles) and antihelminthic properties.

Mugwort Recipes:

Mugwort Rice Cakes
Korean Injeolmi Rice Cakes

Note: It's very bitter-tasting and contains thujone (toxic in large doses) so consumption should be avoided by pregnant women.

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Tansy is a petal-less member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), belonging to the same genus as Feverfew. In the past it was frequently cultivated as a medicinal herb and was valued as a treatment for worms and external parasites, for repelling insects, to control menstrual bleeding and to induce abortions.

Like Mugwort, Tansy has a strongly medicinal scent, is very bitter and contains thujole (pregnant women should avoid eating it). 

Both the leaves and the button-like flowers yield a pale yellow dye when boiled.

Dyeing with Tansy: (Showing the effects of alum, tin and rhubarb mordants). (Showing the effects of copper, iron and alum/cream of tartar mordants).

Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata seedpods
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) ripe seedpods

Sweet Cicely can be identified by the following features:

  • Strongly and sweetly scented. 
  • Leaves and stems covered in DOWNY HAIRS. 
  • White flowers. 
  • Whitish, splash-like markings at base of leaves. 
  • Seedpods = ridged, linear-oblong (canoe-shaped!), becoming shiny brown when ripe. 
As both its common and scientific name attest, all parts of Sweet Cicely have a pleasant anise-like fragrance and sweet flavour. It was traditionally used to treat coughs and to aid digestion.

Sweet Cicely Recipes: 

Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Pudding (
Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Pudding (
Sweet Cicely Custard (

Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Well known for its powerful sedative effects, Valerian also contains the alkaloid actinidine; a powerful cat-attractant, and may provoke a response in cats unresponsive to catnip. More info can be found here.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium pink
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow Achillea millefolium white
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Two species of crucifer were growing along the edge of the path: the white flowered Garden Radish and the lemon-yellow flowered Sea Radish.

Garden Radish Raphanus sativus white flowers
Garden Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Sea Radish Raphanus raphanistrum maritimus yellow flowers
Sea Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum maritimus

Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), the native ancestor of the Garden Radish, lacks the swollen root of its domesticated relative but is just as edible!
I *think* the Wild Radish pictured above is the subspecies maritimus, known as the Sea Radish, but I could be wrong. There's lots of variation within Raphanus and Wild Radish can have yellow, white or mauve flowers.

The most reliable way of separating them is to look at their seedpods:
  • Consists of globular BEADS, EASILY BROKEN at joints and has long BEAKED tip = Wild Radish. 
  •  Consists of globular BEADS, NOT EASILY BROKEN at joints and has long BEAKED tip = Sea Radish. 
  •  UNBEADED = Garden Radish.

Dark Mullein Verbascum nigrum
Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum)

The densely packed, pale yellow flowers (with a slightly waxy appearance) and dark red, hairy stamens of Dark Mullein are very distinctive. It also lacks the coating of silvery hair found on most mulleins.

Dotted Loosestrife Lysimachia punctata
Dotted Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)

Dotted Loosestrife (Myrsinaceae family) is yet another non-native and despite its name, it's not closely related to our native Purple Loosestrife (Lythraceae family).

This plant doesn't produce nectar, instead the flowers produce fatty oils in order to attract specialist pollinators: Macropis sp. 'oil bees' (which are absent from Scotland).

Perennial Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis
Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

Perennial Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis
Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

Set amongst brilliant blue skies and waters, the fireball flowers of Perennial Sow-thistle burn brightly in the sunshine. These sunbursts are savoury too! The slightly bitter leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and a coffee substitute can be made from the roots.

Sow-thistles exude a milky white sap when damaged - much like Dandelion's.

Sow-thistle Recipes:

Sauteed Sow-thistles (from
Sauteed Sow-thistles (from
Sow-thistle Lasagne
Chinese Vinegar Peanut Salad (with Sow-thistles)
Stir-fried Sow-thistles and Pork

In terms of nutrition, Sow-thistles contain at least as much vitamin C per gram as oranges, have a high 'omega 3' fatty acid content and, like other leafy greens, are a rich source of minerals.

At this time of year the shore is quieter, though I did see a large (easily disturbed) flock of Oystercatchers and some Curlew.

Oystercatcher Starlings flock
Oystercatchers (below) and Starlings (above)

I walked around Ardmore Point peninsula, where there are impenetrable thickets of hawthorn, golden-yellow gorse scrub and silvery-barked Aspens.

From the path, I saw a male Whitethroat singing prominently from a hawthorn - what a handsome bird! Warm sunlight caught the suffusion of pink on his breast and lent his white-rimmed eyes a reddish tint.

Common Blue butterflies were frequent on the upper shore (Ardmore Point).

On my return home I spotted a Turnstone and later, a Commic Tern*, both on the lower shore between Ardmore Point south bay and Cardross. There was also a flock of Goldfinches flitting about close to the path.

*Not a tern trying to be funny...birder-speak for those which can't be positively identified as either a Common Tern (Sterna hirudo) or an Arctic Tern (Sterna paradiseae).

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