St Cyrus’ most wild and rare

Simon Ritchie is the newly appointed Seasonal Reserve Assistant based at the SNH St Cyrus National Nature Reserve (NNR), north of Montrose. Growing up in the area, Simon has developed a wealth of experience, and knowledge of the reserve. As part of the SNH marine-themed month, he gives us a little insight into one of his particular passions – flowers, and flower identification.

Thankfully, I spent the majority of my childhood on the reserve. This subliminally led me into an interest in natural history which became a passion of mine when I was around 15/16 years old; this is when I first started to become interested in plants. Fortunately, assisting the St Cyrus NNR staff with the botanical surveying on the reserve helped me to understand the types of plants that occur at St Cyrus NNR and the ‘art’ of identification.


St Cyrus NNR © Lorne Gill/SNH

St Cyrus NNR is an excellent reserve for botanical interest. Firstly, the conditions at St Cyrus NNR are ideal for supporting a really interesting array of species.  We are sheltered amongst south-east facing cliffs which create a micro-climate; this means that St Cyrus NNR is relatively warmer than the surrounding areas. The combination of a warm, sheltered habitat and a good source of nutrients washing from the coastal cliffs encourage growth of abundant wildflowers. Many of the plants at St Cyrus NNR are at their northern limit or uncharacteristic of the area. Some of the habitat is very similar to limestone habitats 500 miles further south. As a result, St Cyrus NNR offers species that are often much more suited for habitats in southern and eastern England.

The 3 most iconic and locally scarce or rare species of St Cyrus NNR and how to identify them are as follows:


Maiden Pink (© Lorne Gill/SNH)

Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides) is a very charismatic flower that covers the dune grassland in a wash of pink. It is around 10-20cm in height and the leaves and flowers are around 15mm. The flowers are rose red/pinkish with toothed petals. These flowers are nearing their northern range at St Cyrus NNR and are so locally important that the St Cyrus village primary school used to have Maiden Pink as there school uniform emblem!

Clustered Bellflower at St Cyrus - Lorne Gill-SNH

Clustered Bellflower at St Cyrus (© Lorne Gill/SNH)

Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata) is a stunning plant that flowers between June and September. When Clustered Bellflower emerges on the dune grasslands, it truly transforms the grassland into a purple haven. A scarce species in Scotland but hard to misidentify; it is around 30-50cm in height with long stalked basal leaves and bright purplish blue flowers with large lobes. As you can see from the photos, you can see why it is called ‘Clustered’ Bellflower as all the flowers are bunched up into a tight bundle.

Nottingham Catchfly - Lorne Gill-SNH

Nottingham Catchfly (Lorne Gill/SNH)

Nottingham Catchfly (Silene nutans) is a very rare plant in Scotland. St Cyrus NNR is one of only a few places where this plant occurs north of the border.  It flowers between May and July and is very distinguishable. It is rather large at around 80cm in height, with drooping white flowers around 18mm that emerge from a purplish calyx (where the flowers emerge) with vein like markings. Look out for this plant on the cliff faces when scanning for birds!

See if you can spot these interesting flowers during your next visit to the St Cyrus NNR, or elsewhere along our coast. You can learn more about Simon’s experience at St Cyrus by reading his previous contribution here.

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