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Plants

Within the cave and the environs there is a wide variety of plants.
  • Lichens, liverwarts and mosses to be found.
  • Yellow Saxifragi, Violet, Scots Lovage Ligusticum scoticum Height up to 80cmPerennial of stabilised grassland around the coasts of Scotland and N Ireland. The bright green, shiny leaves are two times trifoliate with oval leaflets. Flat-topped umbels of white flowers are borne on reddish stems; appear June≠August.

 

Adders Tongue, peculiar little plant with 3-12 leafless, 3-sided stalks, each topped by 1 dull reddish-brown and green flower, growing between 2 basal leaves mottled with maroon patches.
Flowers: About 1" (2.5 cm) wide; sepals 3, lanceolate, spreading, greenish with maroon veins; petals 3, erect, horn-like, maroon; stamens 3.
Leaves: 2 1/2-8" (6.5-20 cm) long, broadly lanceolate.
Fruit: 3-angled capsule.
Height: To 8" (20 cm).

 

Primrose Primulaceae scotica

A biennial with deep purple flowers and a rich yellow eye on a 1-3 inch stalk. Locally frequent in coastal turf and dunes. May -June, July - august

Birds

Rockdoves nest in the nooks and crannies in the higher chambers in the cave. Rock Dove features include a neat white rump, two broad clear black wing-bars and a head which is clearly darker than the rest of the body. Feral Pigeons can, of course, have various plumages but are often darker overall, with extra areas of white or brown and often grey, not white, rumps. In all plumages, Rock Doves have more sharply pointed wings and cleaner, whiter underwings than other pigeons.

Voice:
Their song is the familiar, rumbling cooing; more monotonous than in other pigeons.

 

Starlings in small nesting pairs live in holes in the rock. Starlings have mainly black bodies and yellow bills like Blackbirds but they are smaller and fatter with more pointed heads and longer, more pointed wings. Their plumage is always speckled although in summer the markings on the breast are replaced by iridescent tones of green and blue. Juveniles start off as plain brown with a black bill and characteristic shape.

Voice:
Starlings sing spectacular twittering songs full of squeaks, clicks, whistles and mimicry, which extends to the sounds of mobile phones or even car alarms.

Wrens, Troglodytes are cave dwellers. Wrens are familiar birds with rich brown finely barred plumage, a tiny fat body and a spiky tail which is always held cocked up.

Voice:
Their enthusiastic song is astonishingly loud for such a tiny bird; a bravado performance, prolonged, high-pitched and full of churrs and machine-gun-like rattles. Their stuttering 'ttrt ttrt' calls are also distinctive.

 

 

Blackbirds nest in the mouth of the cave above the entrance. The all-black male with his bright yellow bill is unmistakable and the female is distinctively dark brown all over with only obscure streaking on the breast.

Voice:
The Blackbird song is full, rich and melodious, more elaborate and much deeper than the Mistle Thrush, as if singing from the lungs, not just the mouth. Their scolding, 'tutting' calls produced either singly or in dramatic rapid volleys are familiar sounds

 

Fulmars are relatively recent habitants of the outer limestone cliffs. The gull like birds are constantly displaying. They are related to the Albatros and have the same stiff winged gliding flight. The fulmer lays a single, large white egg that takes around 50 days to incubate. To protect itself the bird can spit out it's stomach contents an oily foul smelling liquid.

Shags can be told from Cormorants by their smaller size, less fearsome head and bill and peaked crown. In summer they are completely dark apart from a limited yellow line around the gape and they often show a little upright tuft on the crown. The immatures have pale brown bellies not showing white areas as a young Cormorant would. In flight they are smaller and slighter with quicker wing-beats, resembling a duck rather than a goose and with the thin neck held straight, not kinked.

Voice:
They are usually silent but at the nest they make calls resembling the bending of creaky wood.

 

Rockpipits The Rock pipit is almost exclusively a coastal bird although birds from Scandinavia do migrate and may turn up elsewhere. They are larger than Meadow Pipits, almost as big as a Tawny Pipit, and they are strikingly dark, so much so that the black streaks on their underparts become almost lost in a dark grey-brown wash. They can be told from the similar Water pipit by their dull grey, not white, outer tail feathers and by their all dark head with no eyestripe or wingbars. 
Voice:
The song of a Rock Pipit is much like that of a Meadow Pipit, but their call is characteristically hoarse.

 

Mammals

Badgers have a Black and white striped face. Body grey, black fur on legs.Head/body length: about 750mm, tail 150mmWeight: average 8-9kg in spring, 11-12kg in autumn.

Badgers are nocturnal and rarely seen during the day. When not active, badgers usually lie up in an extensive system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers, known as a sett. Occasionally, when the weather is particularly hot, badgers may briefly come above ground during daytime. The badger's most important food is earthworms, which are caught on pasture or in deciduous woodland, especially on wet nights. Other foods include bulbs (though not bluebells as commonly thought), small mammals and young rabbits. Carrion is eaten by badgers living in upland areas, but predation of farm livestock is rare. 

Badgers live in social groups of four to twelve adults. Only one female badger in a social group normally breeds, although occasionally two or more may do so. Litters of two or three cubs are usually born in February.

Badgers are widespread in Britain thinly distributed in Scotland. It is estimated that there are about 42,000 social groups of badgers in Britain, made up of 250,000 adults which produce around 172,000 cubs a year. There is considerable variation in the size of social groups, so these figures can only be estimates. Mortality is high, with around two-thirds of adults dying each year. Road traffic accidents are a major cause of death. The maximum life expectancy of a badger is about 14 years, though very few survive so long.

Badgers are protected by a number of laws. Badgers may not be deliberately killed, persecuted or trapped except under licence. Badger baiting (using dogs to fight a badger) has been outlawed since 1835, and digging for them was made illegal by the Badgers Act 1973. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 consolidates past badger legislation and, in addition to protecting the badger itself, makes it an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct badger setts.

Rabbits have Long ears without black tips, long hind legs.Head/body length: up to 400mm. Weight: 1200-2000g.Male usually heavier.

Rabbits originate from the western Mediterranean. They were introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 12th century to provide meat and fur. Rabbits are now widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, but are absent from Rum and Isles of Scilly.

Rabbits can be found almost anywhere they can burrow; sand dunes, railway verges and even in urban areas. The most suitable areas are those where the burrow area and food supply are side-by-side, such as woodland edge and hedgerows. Open warrens are maintained where good burrowing conditions exist on areas of short grass, sand dunes, railway verges and even in urban areas. They are rarely found above the tree-line and avoid damp conditions and areas deep in conifer woodland.

The random network of tunnels, dens and bolt holes is known as a warren. Tunnelling is undertaken predominantly by the female. The depth of the burrows depends on the nature of the soil and the height of the water table. Large warrens usually imply a high population of rabbits. Rabbits eat a wide range of plants including grasses, cereal crops, root vegetables and young shoots of meadow plants. They will eat tree bark especially when snow covers other food sources. Rabbits are normally nocturnal but will come out in daylight if undisturbed, especially during the long days of summer. Social groups vary from a single pair  to up to 30 rabbits using the same warren. Within large groups there is a distinct social hierarchy. Origins of status are not known. The most dominant males, known as bucks, have priority of access to females, known as does. The most dominant does have access to the best nest sites. Bucks and does seldom fight with each other. Competition between does for nest sites can lead to serious injuries and death. In groups with more than one female and more than one male rabbits are not monogamous. 

The breeding season is mainly from January to August, starting later in the North of Britain. Healthy females can produce one litter of 3-7 young per month during the season.   Bucks are able to mate at 4 months, does at 3.5 months. Rabbits don't often live for more than 3 years. Over 90% die in the first year of life, most of these in the first three months. Young rabbits are preyed on by badgers, buzzards and weasels. Rabbits of all ages are taken by foxes, cats, stoats and polecats.

Rabbits have no legal protection in Britain and landowners are required to prevent them from damaging neighbours land. In the middle of the 19th century rabbit numbers began to increase dramatically until they became major agricultural pests. Their increase was due to the large scale planting of hedgerows (a result of years of enclosure acts) providing rabbits with shelter and opportunity to burrow in loosened soil; new agricultural technology increased cereal production giving rabbits an easily accessible food supply and large numbers of the rabbits' natural predators were killed by gamekeepers on new shooting estates. During the war rabbit control methods were relaxed and numbers increased rapidly.

By 1950 rabbits destroyed approximately £50 million worth of crops per year. In the early 1950s the virus myxomatosis occurred in Britain. The first record of a rabbit dying of the disease came in 1952 and within 2 years 99% of the population had died. The disease has become less virulent and rabbits are developing resistance, but outbreaks still occur. The population has largely recovered and rabbit damage is estimated at over £100 million/year. Grazing by rabbits can be very beneficial to maintain the diversity of habitats such as chalk grassland.

Grey seals are Grey with brown fur, sometimes with a pattern of blotches; no ears visible; long muzzle; nostrils parallel. Head/body length: average for males 207cm; for females 180cm; flippers about 25cm.
Weight: males 233kg; females 155kg.

Grey seals in Britain are found mainly around exposed rocky northern and western coasts. Between the tides they haul themselves out on to rocks, usually on uninhabited offshore islands; though some haul-outs are on secluded mainland beaches. Grey seals are gregarious at these haul-outs, sometimes forming large groups of several hundred animals, especially when they are moulting their fur in the spring. They are not, however, very sociable and keep a distance between one another. About two-thirds of grey seals' time is spent at sea where they hunt and feed. Sand eels and cod are their most important foods, but grey seals are opportunistic feeders and probably take whatever fish are most abundant.

In the autumn grey seals congregate at traditional sites on land to breed. The timing of births varies around the coast, beginning in September in West Wales, in October in western Scotland.

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