WELL, there goes 2023 and, let’s be honest, there’s only a few things we’ll miss about the passing year.

So, now it’s time for the bright new dawn that is January 2024!

Continuing in that spirit of optimism and positivity (for a wee while, at least), let’s salute a couple of plants that can brighten up the most miserable of January days.

The first of these will need no introduction to anyone familiar with East Lothian’s coastline.

Sea buckthorn takes the form of a shrub or small tree which can form dense stands within sand dunes.

There is some debate as to whether or not it’s strictly a native species in this part of the UK, but what is certain is that much of it has been deliberately planted. This is largely down to its ability to spread relatively rapidly and to stabilise dune systems that are vulnerable to erosion. The downside of this is that buckthorn will encroach onto footpaths and into sensitive habitats, and therefore needs extensive management.

The colourful things about sea buckthorn are the bright orange berries, which occur in huge numbers on some plants. Others are entirely free of berries and this is because sea buckthorn is dioecious – i.e. the plants are either male or female. So, if you spot a berry-bearing buckthorn plant then you can be sure it’s a female.

Sea buckthorn is very unpopular in some quarters. As noted, it can be somewhat invasive and the thorns are particularly nasty, as anyone who’s been involved in working with it will testify.

However, there are definite benefits to wildlife over the winter months. The dense vegetation and abundant berries provide shelter and food to a variety of animals, especially birds. Winter visitors such as fieldfare and redwing can be seen in huge numbers at sites such as Gullane Bents.

Gorse is probably familiar to most as well. It’s a shrubby member of the pea family which can be found in pretty much any habitat.

As an evergreen, gorse will provide colour throughout the year, but it can also be found flowering in most months. It may only be a minority of plants that flower in January, but those that do really stand out – their bright yellow blooms contrasting with the dark green foliage.

If you do see gorse flowers, give them a quick sniff, as they smell of coconut. Where else could you get the opportunity for hay fever in January?

Like sea buckthorn, gorse can become invasive, particularly in sensitive grassland areas, and can require removal. However, like buckthorn, in the right place it can give valuable shelter to assorted insects and birds.

The similarities don’t end there though. Both species have the ability to take in nitrogen and, through a very clever process involving bacteria in the roots, convert it into more useful compounds such as nitrates and ammonia. This not only allows these plants to grow in soils that are nutrient-poor, but can also improve the quality of the soil for other species. There now, how’s that for New Year positivity?