Grayling butterfly on sea campion by Bob Ward
Grayling butterfly on Cley Shingle Ridge by Bob Ward
Yellow-horned poppy by Bob Ward
Vegetated coastal shingle
Like all natural coastal landforms, vegetated coastal shingle is the product of the interaction of energy and materials. In the case of coastal shingle, the energy comes in the form of waves and the material is shingle. Vegetated coastal shingle is a scarce habitat all over the UK and is principally concentrated in East Anglia. In Norfolk, the finest example is the shingle ridge between Weybourne and Blakeney Point though smaller areas of this habitat may also be found along the shore of the Wash, for example at Snettisham.
On vegetated coastal shingle many plant species may be found, and these in turn help stabilise the habitat and encourage colonisation by invertebrates and other species. Some plants, such as bird’s-foot trefoil and common cat’s-ear are widespread in low nutrient grasslands. Other species, including biting stonecrop, are more typical of stony, extremely well-drained habitats. Finally there are some plants, including yellow horned poppy and sea pea, which are specialists of coastal shingle. The yellow horned poppy is a nationally scarce species of which a fine population may be found at Cley and along the eastern end of Blakeney Point.
Where coastal shingle is permanently vegetated it is colonised by diverse animal species. These include grayling butterflies, which have now become scarce in much of the county, wall browns, common blues and small coppers. Vegetated shingle is also a key nesting habitat in the county for ringed plover, oystercatcher and little tern. Perhaps surprisingly hares are also frequently seen here.
Where water gathers in depressions behind shingle ridges, small brackish lagoons may be formed, with their own unique range of species. The lagoons along the stretch of coastline between Cley and Salthouse are home to one of the country’s only populations of the starlet sea anemone.