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Ecology

Brief description of Site

The cliff fall, known to BHASSEXPLORE as the Zone, is a portion of grassland ecosystem that has fallen from the cliff top some 25 years ago.  With this cliff fall a portion of the grassland fell with it, maintaining a strong portion of its ecosystem still intact. 

The average length of the Zone is 234.45m2, width measured at 40.36m2 Image, 2. The perimeter of the Zone was measured at 582m and the area squared is about 9,502m2 Image, 2.  The entire site is completely cut off from the path along the beach during high tide, making this an almost completely isolated ecosystem.  Plants from the cliff top habitat remain a part of the ecosystem, while over time tough coastal plants have become abundant on regions closest to high tide mark.  High UV from sunlight reflecting from the white chalk cliffs coupled with freshwater provided by the above cliff top ecosystem, help to create a perplexing clash of habitats. 

Image, 2.  The x4 length and x8 width measurements of the Zone.  Average Length = 234.25m, Average Width = 40.36m.  Yellow polygon represents the perimeter and area of the Zone.  Perimeter = 582m, Area = 9,502m2.  The region within the polygon represents the area where most plant species are found.

Chalky soil characterises this location, which are often shallow, free-draining, and stony.  Organic matter often decomposes rapidly making continuous soil fertility difficult to maintain.  Thus, the hardiest of plants endure.  Salt spray and seawater regularly spill into the Zone with chalk and flint boulders added regularly.  Plants in the Zone were considering the harsh conditions a smaller more robust version species would normally be, some plants had discolouration of their leaves while others had reduced sizes and more compact foliage. 

Several invertebrate species were recognised on outings to the site, these included a strong population of Garden snails (Cornu aspersum), several recordings of Devils coach horse beetle (Ocypus olens), and a few samples of Sun-Jumper spiders (Heliophanus flavipes).  Later invertebrate surveys will reveal a more immersive catalogue of invertebrate species which live in the Zone.
 

The site is in regular contact with human interaction, with both primary interaction from lighthouse visitors, dogwalkers, fossil hunters and BHASSEXPLORE volunteers removing damaging plastic waste.  All of which contribute a small level of trampling stress on the ecosystem.  There is also secondary interaction from humans, as tides and strong waves bring in a seemingly endless supply of plastic pollution being washed in.  This waste slowly breaks into smaller pieces becoming engrained in the environment Image, 3 & 4. and at its most extreme becomes harmful microplastics.  In some cases, animals become associated with the pollution using it as shelter, particularly garden snails Image, 5 - 10.  The effect of these regular interactions, particularly the plastic pollution is yet to be known as the site has only had a limited amount of research done yet.  Though previous literature consistently suggests the damaging effects of plastic pollution to an array of species.

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