The Wye Valley is host to a range of plant habitats from flower rich meadowland to woodland flora and these habitats contribute to it’s distinctive character of the landscape. The flora contains an above average number of nationally scarce or Red Data Book listed plants. (There are five species listed in the Red Data Book,and about twenty nine nationally scarce species.)
The significance of the flora can be considered in distinct groupings:
Carboniferous Limestone and the Wye Valley
The Carboniferous Limestone supports a distinct flora including several nationally rare and scarce species. The Wye Valley in particular holds a concentration of species associated with the ledges and steep slopes of the limestone gorge. Ledges and cliff edge habitats have remained free of tree growth acting as 'refugia' for species such as dwarf sedge, fingered sedge, soft-leaved sedge and hutchinsia. The spectacular and attractive bloody cranesbill can also be found around the Wye Valley cliffs.
For well over two centuries, visitors to the Lower Wye Valley have been struck by the amount and diversity of woodland. From Goodrich down to Chepstow both banks of the gorge are covered in mature mixtures of oak, beech, ash, lime and many other tree species. Currently woodland occupies about 26% of land within the Wye Valley AONB where the national average is 11%. An unusually high proportion are ancient woodlands (those exisitng in some form continuously since at least 1600) and several woods have been been scheduled as SSSIs or SACs. Nationally scarce woodland plants include narrow-leaved helleborine, stinking hellebore and narrow lipped helleborine. The area also includes a site for the elusive ghost orchid,one of our rarest and most mysterious wild plants. You can also find bird's nest orchid, greater butterfly orchid and early purple orchid. In spring the woodland floor is carpeted with bluebells, wood anemones and ransoms (wild garlic).The diversity of tree cover is a characteristic of the Wye Valley, with both native lime species (large and small-leaved), wild service tree, and three types of scarce whitebeam, including the endemic whitebeam Sorbus anglica.Two colonies of martagon lily (Lilium martagon) occur in the Wye woodlands, adding a touch of the exotic to the Wye Valley. It is generally thought to be an introduction to this country. However it looks very much at home in a Wye Valley setting and it could possibly be native here.
Limestone specialities appear to have declined on the ring of Carboniferous Limestone running away from the Valley through the Dean. Limestone fern has been reduced to two sites and mezereon is now extinct in the Natural Area. (The latter was associated with formerly coppiced woods on the limestone and may have declined due to changes in management or woodland cover).
Open ground and bare places
Several species are associated with disturbed habitats in woodland. The famous Tintern spurge occurs only in woods in the Dean and Wye Valley (including the Gwent side) and one site close to the AONB. It requires periodic disturbance and is associated with managed rides or even former industrial sites.
Spreading bell-flower also likes disturbance but is more associated with woodland edge habitats. The Wye Valley forms part of the historical core area for this species which extends along the Welsh border. Spreading bell-flower has always been sporadic in occurrence, but there has been a long term decline in the population. It is a species that should form part of the botanical character of the area.
Dry sandy soils with thin open vegetation support populations of the fine-leaved sandwort and perennial lesser calamint.
Nationally scarce waste ground plants include white horehound and twiggy mullein. These are thought to be inadvertent introductions and are not native to the Natural Area.
Monkshood is associated with wet woods and scrubby stream sides and was formerly well established but has declined greatly and may be extinct.
The nationally scarce saltmarsh grass, bulbous foxtail, is found in some of the small patches of saltmarsh that occur on the tidal stretch of the River Wye.
Fungi, Mosses and Liverworts
Mosses and liverworts are reasonably well represented in the Wye Valley woods. The gorge woods hold most of the British population of Selgeria campylopoda and the only southern population of Anomodon longifolius. Most of the nationally rare species that occur within the aONB are concentrated in the woods particularly on the main limestone outcrops on the gorge. Rare and uncommon fungi such as the Devil's Bolete (Boletus satanus) have been collected.
A partnership between the AONB Unit, Ross-on-Wye Town Council and Natural England have started tree management work on the banks of the Wye where it passes through Ross, to benefit biodiversity and create river views.
If you are 14-18 years old and love exploring the countryside of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, then the Wye Valley AONB Youth Ranger programme is looking for you! Come along to our Taster Day on September 30th.