Bitter Vetch by Martin Allen

Hummersea is a stunning stretch of coast just to the north of Loftus.

The site includes a wide swathe of coastal slope, rich in wildflowers such as fragrant and pyramidal orchids and spiny restharrow. High cliff faces support nesting seabirds in spring and summer. A small area of shingle beach at the foot of the cliff lies above mean-high water; this is part of the property and at low tide it leads onto a wider expanse of wave-cut platform and rocky shore. The beach can be reached by several flights of steep wooden steps.

Towards the bottom of the steps, the last remains of an alum house can be seen embedded in the cliff. The production of alum was unique to East Cleveland and shaped its landscape and industrial history. The Hummersea alum house was part of the Loftus Alum Works which were one of the most successful in the area and operated from 1655 to 1863.

Another feature of the nature reserve is grass-of-Parnassus; one of our most elegant wildflowers. Producing a single pristine white flower with five petals between June and September, it isn’t actually a grass, but gets its name from the translucent green stripes that adorn each white petal. It is a small plant with a tuft of smooth heart-shaped leaves and those at Hummersea grow to a height of around 10 to 15cm, although it can reach up to twice that height

Hummersea supports over a thousand plants and is the largest “colony” in our area. They grow well here because the sloping tops to the rock cliffs are dotted with wet springs giving broad patches of damp heavy-clay soil. Also important to their survival are the mini-landslides which expose new bare wet soil on which the fine, wind-blown seeds can germinate. With no competition from surrounding vegetation they thrive.

This nature reserve was a generous bequest from Angela Cooper MBE, a founder member of the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust who made a massive contribution to its early work and development. She served as a trustee and on the Conservation and Education Committees for many years. In 1997, she was awarded the Christopher Cadbury Medal for services for the advancement of nature conservation in the British Islands.