New life for The Living Coast

20 January 2022

From Kew to Kemptown - Almost 1,000 young plants find a home on Brighton beach

If you are strolling along Brighton seafront you may have spotted new plants which arrived in the city recently to enhance the new wildlife site being created as part of the Black Rock Rejuvenation Project. 

The first stage of the project saw plants from the original wildlife site re-located to a new area of beach immediately next to the new boardwalk. This 600m long boardwalk runs through the entire new wildlife site allowing close range views of the habitat. It will open official in March 2022.

Almost 1,000 young plants, grown by horticulturalists at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, are settling into their new home at Black Rock as part of a unique coastal project.

Expert horticulturalists

Working with experts from Kew, members of the Black Rock Project Team took cuttings from the plants which were taken to Wakehurst.

The cuttings of ‘Crambe maritima’ (sea kale) were used to propagate and grow young plants by horticulturalists at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. Other plants including ‘Glaucium flavum’ (yellow-horned poppy) and ‘Solanum dulcamara’ (bittersweet) were also grown from seed gathered in Sussex.

After several months, the team from Kew were delighted to hand over almost 1,000 young plants to be transported back to the city and re-planted in the vegetated shingle at Black Rock.

A unique ‘wave’ design has been carefully formed to provide a range of micro-habitats. This uses a mix of beach shingle and seed-rich sands and grits from the original beach at Black Rock.

The new plants were planted in the wave troughs to kick-start natural colonisation over the coming years. Seeding with a wider range of locally native species will take place in late spring. Meanwhile seed within the sands and grits is already germinating.

Chris Cockel, Kew’s UK Native Seed Hub Coordinator, said: “We’ve loved working with Brighton & Hove City Council and the Black Rock Project Team on this project.  

“Working on a coastal project is something new for us, so it’s been an interesting diversion from what we normally do.

“When we collected the root cuttings, they didn’t look much but they’ve actually produced some of the best plants. Once they got going there was not stopping them!


Rare habitat

Botanical horticulturalist Alice Livingstone, who nurtured the young plants in the greenhouses at Wakehurst, added: “It’s the first time I’ve worked with vegetated shingle, which is an unusual and quite rare habitat, so it was lovely to work with these species. 

“We had to be careful not to damage the seed while crushing the pods, but once they germinated, they grew really well. I’ve loved working with them but am always happy to see them go off to their new homes.”

It is expected that the new wildlife site will become increasingly rich in birds, butterflies, bees and other small insects to markedly enhance the biodiversity of this unique coastal habitat. Sightings of small flocks of wagtails shows how this process has already started.

New ecosystem

Councillor Tom Druitt, chair of the Black Rock Member Task and Finish Group, said: “It’s exciting to see how the new planting on the beach is taking shape and very soon everyone will be able to see it for themselves while enjoying a walk along the new boardwalk. 

“We are proud to have worked with the experts at Kew to create this new habitat on the beach which will become home to new plants and insects and help create a new ecosystem on our seafront.”

Transforming the coastline

The Black Rock Rejuvenation project is part of a large-scale regeneration effort to transform this part of the coastline and enable further development in the future.

Other plans for the project include restoring the Temple and Grade-II Listed Old Reading Room and an expanded sea wall.

There’ll also be a seafront classroom for children and young people to take advantage of when visiting the area as well as creating new seating and lighting.

By The Living Coast

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