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Page last updated at 13:54 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 14:54 UK
Sea holly battles coastal change
Sea holly
The striking sea holly is native to most European coastlines

Conservationists at East Mersea are hopeful its coastal plants can survive the threat of rising sea levels.

Species such as the sea holly face an uncertain future as their habitats are affected by climate change.

Cudmore Grove Country Park ranger Dougal Urquhart, said he had seen whole clumps of the plant washed away by the tide in recent years.

However, he is confident the electric blue plant is capable of ensuring its existence on the north Essex island.

"The sea hollies that you will see on the beach now, you never know whether these plants will still be here in a few years time," he said.

"I've watched a few holly clumps over the years which the next year have all been washed away.

"But what's nice about some of the clumps here is we've probably got about a dozen little seedlings that are sprouting up, so in the next few years we should have some new plants coming up."

Sweet history

Sea holly is easily identifiable on our beaches, with its thistle-like appearance and electric blue flowers.

Centuries ago it was seen as an aphrodisiac and also used for making of sweets, which became a particularly significant industry in Essex.

"Colchester used to be at the centre of of 'candied eryngium,'" said Dougal.

"It's known that in the mayoral banquets candied roots, which were boiled up roots, were served at banquets going back to the 15th century.

"So north Essex was at the centre in Britain of the eryngium business."

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