Lincolnshire and South
Humberside Trust for Nature
Conservation, Gibraltar Point,
(and at Manor House, Alford,
At end of Gibraltar Road, 3 miles south of Skegness town centre Map reference: TF555
1-mile long Reserve with marked paths which can be followed at will – principal features are the duneland and saltmarsh environments
Very informative illustrated brochure; visitors’ centre with exhibitions of Reserve research; 3 car parks; beach
Of all the many natural changes that are taking place in the environment, those that occur at the fringe between sea and land are often the most dramatic. The constant erosion and de-position of mud and sand by tide, currents, waves and wind, often accelerated by man, present a changing coastline which can show a tremendous number of differing habitats within a very small area. Such a place is Gibraltar Point, three miles south of the Lincolnshire resort of Skegness, a 1500-acre Nature Reserve designed and managed by the Lincolnshire and South Humberside Trust on behalf of Nature Conservation.
Gibraltar Point not only marks a dramatic change-point of the east coast – a sandy prom-ontory between the dune banks that stretch down from the Humber and the salt marshes of the Wash – it is itself in the process of extending out into the sea. Sited to the east of an extensive area of former marshland which has been steadily won from the sea since mediaeval times, the Point once extended slightly further south. Now, spits of sand are developing parallel to the Point’s east shore. These will eventu-ally produce colonisation by plants enabling the sand to rise above the water level perma-nently and become new duneland.
Between this area of dune development and the mouth of the Steeping River, extensively canalised for drainage in its flow across the Steeping and Wainfleet lowlands, paths have been laid out which are marked by numbered posts. It is the Lincolnshire Trusts’s policy simply to provide visitors with a full and infor-mative booklet on the Reserve and then allow them to use the paths at will to explore the many interesting facets of the Point’s marsh-land, fresh and brackish pools and sand habitats. The Reserve’s field station, a building developed by extending a former Coastguard lookout point, and Visitors’ Centre are at the end of the West Dunes, which were the site of the actual coast about 200 or so years ago.
The land between the West and East Dunes is a marsh, much of which is flooded up to the earthwork rampart of Bulldog Bank. Behind the bank, recently heightened to prevent sea flooding, is a freshwater marsh. Most of the dry dune areas are covered with the spiky bushes of sea buckthorn, its drab grey-green foliage alleviated in autumn and early winter by the vivid orange of its berries. On older-established dunes, it is possible to see that the buckthorn gives way to other shrubs such as privet (the wild species), elder and hawthorn. Towards the sea, the dunes are bound and
protected against wind erosion by marram grass. The tall clumps themselves collect sand and add to the dunes’ stature. Behind this area of generation there is a completely different flora of shorter plants such as sea fescue grass, chickweed and the yellow-flowered ragwort.
In the developing area of the shoreline, Gibraltar Point shows all the stages of dune growth. As the dunes rise above the high water mark by deposition, the tide line becomes marked by the arrival of wrack – plant debris, skate egg cases and those curiosities, the sea firs (actually congregations of small organisms related to coral). This material helps bind more sand and becomes a mulch in which salt-adapted plants such as the saltwort and sea rocket can begin to colonise the new sand. Where the water flow deposits mud, the fleshy (and edible) tufts of samphire can be seen and cord grass begins to bind the silt.
The strip saltings with their sub-culture of snails and small molluscs are a great attraction to flocks of birds. Little terns and ringed plovers are among the regular nesting colonies on the sand of the Spit (a developing dune) habitat. Waders inhabit the shallows of the marshes in their autumn passage to warmer climates or for a winter’s stay. Among regular residents and visitors are dunlins, herring and black-headed gulls and oyster-catchers.
Within the Reserve are two further favourites with the birds – the Mill Pool and the Mere. The Mill Pool is an extremely deep, artificial pond holding fresh water which seeps from the very high water table. In the rush fringes, moorhens and sedge-warblers nest. Also man-made, the Mere is a purpose-built bird observation lake of fairly shallow fresh water. Public access is restricted to the hide at its western corner. Attracted to the Mere are herons, teals, grebes, dunlins and shelducks (the last a winter visitor), among dozens of other species. Frogs and toads inhabit the fringes and the Trust reports sightings of grass snakes swimming here.
The Point’s mammal life is not quite so prominently on display. In the areas of heavy shrub cover, the Reserve supports a consider-able population of small rodents such as the pigmy and common shrews and the short-tailed vole. Keeping them in check is a trio of birds of prey, the short-eared owl, the kestrel and, on occasion, the rare harrier. While foxes do not, at the moment, inhabit the Reserve, there is a considerable population of them locally and it has been necessary to wire off the nesting area of the Spit to prevent them from getting at sitting birds, eggs and young.
For a panorama across the whole Reserve and the flat surrounding countryside of reclaimed marshes, you can ascend to the top of Mill Hill, which is probably the oldest dune in the area and is certainly the tallest. There is a view to the chalk uplands of the Wolds where the Steeping River rises as the Lymn (thought by many to be Tennyson’s and in the opposite direction, the strip saltings which are the indication that this area will continue to develop and change.
To the north of the Reserve is the bustling resort of Skegness, well-known for its bracing airs, for which Tennyson was an enthusiast. The town’s unusual name is probably derived from the name of one of the 8th-century Danish invaders of Britain, the chieftain, Skeggi. From a fishing port, the resort has now developed into a spacious town of wide avenues, tree-lined streets and extensive sea-front gardens. For the family it has all the fun of the fair and a wide choice of accommodation from a holiday camp to the campsite in Richmond Drive.
Skegness is still a fishing centre for the leisure angler, with local charter and hire boats fishing the banks off the town and Gibraltar Point or the Boston Deeps to the south. Catches include cod, dogfish, mackerel, ray, tope and whiting. Fishing for bream and roach on the Steeping River is controlled by the Anglian Water Authority and the Witham and District Anglers’ Federation. Skegness’s Golf Club, its links laid out on the dunes between the town and Gibraltar Point, welcomes holiday and touring visitors.
Five miles inland is the tiny town of Burgh-le-Marsh, with its fully restored mid-19th-century windmill. Visitors can see four floors of the mill, which is a five-sailed design in working order.
If you take the back roads on your return to Skegness, you will find the Church Farm Museum, a fascinating living museum of 19th-century fenland farming, including a historic collection of farm implements, and workshops where visitors can buy from a selection of examples of rural crafts.