Pairing Heritage With Nature – L’Ancresse Common
Covering around 25 square miles, Guernsey is the second largest Channel Island and lies just to the west of neighbouring Jersey.
Although relatively small, Guernsey has a great diversity of landscapes, with a complex geological history and some fantastic areas of coastline. On the northern tip of the island, situated within the Vale parish, the landscape is comprised of long sandy bays and undulating grassy commons, in contrast to the rockier southern shore. Almost 300 acres of the coastline here makes up L’Ancresse Common – a publicly accessible site with some incredible stories to tell.
L’Ancresse Common is perfect for walking. I took a stroll across the landscape and didn’t have to go too far before I came across evidence of Guernsey’s rich history.
The earliest evidence of human occupation comes from the Neolithic period and is visible in the form of various burial chambers, some of which are more than 6,500 years old.
The best examples are Les Fouaillages and La Varde Passage Grave and Millennium Stone. In addition to these historic sites, there are a series of loophole towers along the coast which were constructed during the Napoleonic era to protect the island from invasion. As if that’s not enough, there are also fortifications dating from WWII, meaning L’Ancresse Common is almost worthy of being a museum in itself.
Sun, Sea and Sand
The Common is broadly made up of dune grassland and sandy scrub, but there are many hidden pockets of habitat that can be found off the beaten track.
The heather and gorse stands are nationally rare and offer refuge for some of Guernsey’s rare plants and animals. For this reason, the area has been designated as a Site of National Conservation Importance and efforts are being made to ensure the popularity of the area among recreational users does not impact on the environment.
Walkers are the largest group to use the common, making the most of the beautiful sea views and the opportunity to get out in the fresh air. The area also has some of the best beaches in Guernsey. Pembroke Bay and Chouet Beach are two examples and offer idyllic stretches of sand, wonderfully clear waters and good rock-pooling opportunities.
On sunny days in summer, these can be great destinations to visit, perfect for swimming or sunbathing. Several other recreational activities are part of L’Ancresse Common’s heritage. Some sections merge into a golf course which is over 100 years old, and the site is also used for an annual horse racing event.
One of the creatures that calls L’Ancresse Common home is a real favourite among birdwatchers, with many placing it high on their hit-lists.
The Dartford Warbler is a small passerine bird known for its distinctive rattling song.
Like many warbler species, it’s partial to some singing and the call can often be heard ringing out across the landscape on warm days. In Guernsey, Dartford Warblers can be found on coastal heathland and gorse headlands, and this is what makes L’Ancresse Common such a great habitat for the species.
More often heard than seen, you’ll likely have to come equipped with binoculars and a bit of luck to catch a glimpse of this bird.
Dartford Warblers are very well camouflaged, with muted, brown plumage that blends perfectly into scrubby vegetation.
The best chances to see the birds are during their vocal performances, when they often perch at the top of tall vegetation in order to elevate their songs.
The species has a chequered history in the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands.
Dartford Warblers usually don’t migrate south for the winter and as such they can suffer greatly during cold periods.
In the late 1960’s, a series of cold winters nearly wiped the species out entirely in the UK, with populations also suffering in the Channel Islands. Thankfully, the bird has faired better in recent years and there are several hundred nesting pairs across the islands, with Guernsey being one of the most reliable places to see them.
With L’Ancresse Common offering some great views out over the English Channel, it also pays to look out for animal activity on the water. Some of the highlights include Guernsey’s marine mammals, which can often be seen near the coast.
The Channel Islands have some of the largest Bottlenose Dolphin populations in the world and although sightings are infrequent, you might be lucky to see large pods feeding close to shore.
Small colonies of Grey Seals also inhabit the islands and individuals fish in around the bays around L’Ancresse Common.
Watch out for their heads bobbing up out of the water as they check out what’s happening on land.
L’ancresse Common is therefore a unique location in the Channel Islands and can be an intriguing place to visit on a day out.
There are many sights to see and the opportunity to get out and about in nature here is one that should not be missed.
Read more about the beautiful beaches of Guernsey: The Very Best Beaches of Guernsey