Jersey predominantly slopes upward from the south to the north. This topography results in spectacular cliffs along the north coast intersected by stream-cut valleys and secluded coves. There are further cliffs on the Island’s south-west.
Generally the north-facing granite cliffs are not sheer but slope toward the sea from about 250 feet with the last 30 feet or so dropping into the sea. The cliffs are at their highest at Les Platons (446 feet) and at their most attractive and rugged between Le Pulec and Le Grand Becquet, St Ouen.
Grazing on the cliff tops, would have once maintained a short diverse sward. Today floral diversity is maintained to some extent by the influence of the sea and by the grazing of rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus. Topographical variation combines with the other factors to produce a rich collection of plants, birds and insects. The south-west cliffs are hotter and dryer than those on the north coast, and a distinctly flora and fauna thrives here. Cultivated fields extend to the top of the cliffs and it is important that the continuity of this habitat is maintained so that species can escape from fire. Even the bracken-covered slopes provide habitat for woodland species, such as the wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus, which flowers in spring and benefits from the bracken giving them shade which would normally be provided by trees. Adjacent to the coastal slopes are the important remaining heathlands of Les Landes, La Lande du Ouest, Portelet, Noirmont and Les Creux. The shallow, acid rocky soil has saved them from agricultural “improvement”.
The magnificent cliffs and coastal slope of our north and southwest coasts provide a valuable habitat for a wide range of species. The cliffs themselves are at times of the year colourful with wildflowers including:
- Thrift Armeria maritima
- Ox-eye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare
- Sea campion Silene uniflora
- A good assortment of lichens.
A variety of seabirds and other bird species can be observed from the cliff tops including:
- Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
- European shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
- Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus
- Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
- Lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus
- Herring gull Larus argentatus
- Great black-backed gull Larus marinus
- Razorbill Alca torda
- Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica
- Feral rock dove Columba livia
- Common swift Apus apus
- Jackdaw Corvus monedula
- Raven Corvus corax
- Rock pipit Anthus spinoletta
The rabbit is common on the cliff tops and slopes and is a major grazer. Bank vole Clethrionomys glareolus may be common in the denser vegetation and it is sometimes possible to see bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus and grey seal Halichoerus grypus out to sea.
Much of Jersey’s north coast was originally managed by a combination of grazing (usually with sheep), and bracken and gorse cutting for bedding and fuel respectively. This management led to the development of short, species-rich grassland, which is now threatened by bracken and scrub encroachment. Rabbit grazing helps keep some areas open for the benefit of wildflowers such as bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus, sheep’s-bit scabious Jasione montana and tormentil Potentilla erecta, although the bracken does provide shelter for typically woodland plants such as bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta and wild daffodil. In late summer, purple foxglove Digitalis purpurea adds further colour to the scene.
This management is unfortunately not enough to stem the gradual encroachment by gorse scrub and bracken heathland. Direct intervention such as manual cutting and removal of bracken and other vegetation is now required. The return of grazing animals such as sheep is another important tool in restoration of the cliff top habitat. See the projects to restore these areas
Some of the finest walks in Jersey run along the Island’s north coast. The scenery is wild, the terrain ruggedly beautiful with steep heather and bracken-clad cliffs high above attractive little bays like Plémont, Grève de Lecq, Bonne Nuit, Bouley and Rozel. The Jersey North Coast Cliff Path, completed in 1972, runs from Le Pulec in the north west to Rozel in the north east and allows walkers to get a feel of this part of the Island and to see some fantastic wildlife.
There is another coastal footpath on the south-west coast from St Ouen’s Bay to St Aubin through the south facing heathlands. As you walk this route, note the difference in vegetation structure and species assemblages between the more ‘wind blown and wild’ north coast and the ‘warmer and sheltered’ south-west coast.
Walking the cliff paths will also allow you to experience birds on the edge at their best!