Wildlife

The wildlife of the Solway is renown, from marine interest to the specialised flora and fauna of the dunes, peatlands and salt marshes.

Migratory bird species including Barnacle Geese, can be found on the marshes and mosses; unique plants such as the insect eating Sundew can be found on the mosses; marine mammals including porpoises and seals can be seen from the promenade at Silloth, amazing honeycomb worm reefs can be seen near Allonby when the tide is out; dragonflies, butterflies, the rare natterjack toad and so many more species can all be found in the varied landscape.

.

Cetaceans are a group of warm-blooded marine mammals totally independent of land, having become aquatic and adapted to life in the ocean. There are more than 80 known species, all must breathe air and their blowhole allows them to breathe when travelling through water. They range in size from the smallest dolphins and porpoises or a metre or so in length, to the enormous blue whale - the largest animal on earth, which can grow to more than 30 metres in length.

The Harbour Porpoise (phocoena phocoena) is the most commonly seen cetacean in the Irish Sea, including a number of areas where sightings are very regular, some even daily and Silloth is one of these areas. Harbour Porpoises, usually as singles or pairs but sometimes in relatively large aggregations can be seen at sites all around the Solway Coast AONB and wider Solway Firth, but none so close as along the Silloth Promenade.

"Daan Close Up" by AVampireTear - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Barnacle Geese are medium-sized, with black head, neck and breast and a creamy-white face, which contrasts with the white belly, blue-grey barred back and black tail. It flies in packs and long lines, with a noisy chorus of barking or yapping sounds.

The Geese spend their summer nesting in the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Greenland and Russia. In the winter when it’s too cold in the Arctic they fly south for food and warmth. The Barnacle Geese that nest in Greenland fly south to the Isle of Islay and western Ireland, and the Russian birds fly to the Netherlands. The Barnacle Geese that nest in Svalbard (Svalbard Barnacle Geese) all fly south to the Solway Firth, on the south coast of Scotland and north coast of Cumbria.

The journey between Svalbard and the Solway Firth is about 2,000 miles (3,200km), and the geese make this journey every year. On the way they have to cope with extreme weather, avoid hunters and find food. In the 1940's there were only around 300 Svalbard Barnacle Geese, now, thanks to WWT Caerlaverock and RSPB Campfield Marsh there are over 30,000. WWT is also helping to look after the geese by fitting them with satellite trackers so we can see where they fly and roost.

You can see Svalbard Barnacle Geese at WWT Caerlaverock from October to May, and at RSPB Campfield Marsh near Bowness on Solway in Cumbria.

One of the key habitats for the Honeycomb worm reef is Allonby Bay near Dubmill Point. The reef is made of millions of worms, which form tubes from tiny grains of sand and shell, which grow side-by-side to form a living reef. The reef forms one of the most extensive and best examples of honeycomb worm reefs in the UK.

Living and rocky reef habitats also support a wealth of species from sponges, crabs, lobsters and anemones to an array of seaweeds.

Sub-tidal sand and gravel habitats are important spawning and nursery grounds for plaice, skate and thornback rays.

Harbour porpoises are often spotted here and are thought to pup in the area.

Allonby Bay is a recommended Marine Conservation Zone.

As a coastal site, Allonby is also important for recreation for visitors and the local community.

Marine algae includes all the minute one celled or few celled plants of the plankton as well as the multicellular seaweeds of the shore and shallow water. There are about 800 of these micro algae on the British list of which 300 or so species may be found in our Solway waters.

At first sight these are the most common and the best way to become familiar with these inter-tidal wracks is to examine them on our sloping stony/rocky shores where the zones are distinct. Artificial constructions such as breakwaters, groynes and harbour walls make excellent homes for these botanic marvels for which x10 lens is essential.

Grows at the top of our shores, followed as you go seawards by a belt of Flat Wrack and then Bladder Wrack mixed with Knotted Wrack. The greater the shelter, the larger the percentage of Knotted Wrack, which may become dominant except in brackish conditions.