Firstly, we want to clear up a common misconception; that “the beach is covered in Spartina”.

Figure 1: This is Common Saltmarsh Grass (Puccinellia maritima), a native species that establishes naturally as a pioneer dune grass. It’s by far the most dominant grass on the foreshore.
Figure 2: Common Cord Grass (Spartina anglica), an invasive species that is much less prevalent than in previous years, in large part because of the drier conditions on the beach as the beach level rises.
Figure 3: Common Saltmarsh Grass (Puccinellia maritima) after spraying in 2019. This would under normal circumstances quickly accrete sand and form embryo dunes but will not be able to do so this year.
Figure 4: Common Cord Grass (Spartina anglica); the only grass that survived the spraying aimed at eradicating it in August 2019. Spartina is a saltmarsh, not a dune species. Ongoing suppression of dune formation prolongs favourable conditions for Spartina.


Common Cord Grass (Spartina anglica) Common Saltmarsh Grass (Puccinellia maritima)

Non native Common Cord Grass (Spartina anglica) has upright, spiky, dark green leaves with a 'v' shaped cross section profile if cut; a kind of supercharged lawn grass. Its strong, circular profile stems grow tall and straight and bear lightweight pale coloured flowers in late Spring / early Summer.

The native Common Saltmarsh Grass (Puccinelia maritima), by contrast, has a round profile for both stems and leaves, like extended chives. Stems eventually become red; both stem and leaf are straggly, spreading horizontally across the sand. Both Spartina and Puccinellia are good sand accretors.

Being able to identify the difference between these grasses is important to understanding what is happening on the beach at the moment. Next time you’re out on the beach go have a look and see if you can identify these two species. There are others, but Puccinellia is by far the most common.