This is a lovely piece in the Guardian Newspaper’s Country Diary by Matt Shardlow (@MattEAShardlow) about the very special saltmarsh at Brancaster - direct link to the article in the title of this post...
Wide expanses of beach sand and saltmarsh provide little shelter from the elements. The weather is on the turn, the gentle southerly breeze transforming into a bracing northerly, marshalling light but remorseless rain from the North Sea.
The beach is adorned with shells, in particular narrow, rectangular European razor clams (Ensis minor), that roll and dance in the surf, form drifts along the strandline, and crunch underfoot like wafers of glass. The matrix of the fragmented strandline consists of tangles of sandy-coloured bryozoan colonies – seaweed-like fronds of greater horn wrack and other branched or filamentous examples of these animals.
Nestled amongst them are empty ray egg cases; each infant ray having wriggled free of its black vinyl ravioli envelope. Two types are present; the thornback ray cases are nearly square with a stoutish horn on each corner and a delicate flange along every edge, while the spotted ray cases are slenderer, with smooth bowed sides and long curved horns.
A channel cuts through the dunes and beach, the water is ponded and sheltered at the point where it exits the saltmarshes. The heads of two young common seals poke out and shiny liquorice button eyes watch us with curiosity.
Behind the dunes is a sea meadow, although only a single pink flowering head of thrift remains, there is a swathe of dried, branched sea-lavender seed-heads. The higher, sandy margins are dominated by the tiny rock sea-lavender, its dinky rosettes of paddle-shaped leaves barely bigger than a milk bottle cap, while the larger lax-flowered variety is commoner in the wetter areas of the slack.
A flock of pallid birds skim low over the dunes. The snow buntings alight in the sea meadow and forage for seeds. These plump little passerines are an underappreciated British species. Brilliant white under-parts and broad wing-bases; the head and face dusted with brick-red shading. They breed in the arctic circle, with a few outposts in the Cairngorms, then visit our remote beaches after we desert them in autumn.