Storm damage at Mewslade Bay

Mewslade Bay is one of my favourite beaches on the south Gower Coast. Well-known for its dramatic rock formations and beautiful sandy shore. It has taken a pounding during recent storms. The result of the relentless attacks by wind and waves is a complete transformation – the sand has disappeared! The pictures shown above, revealling the new topography of Mewslade, were sent to me by kind friends from the nearby village of Middleton. They regularly walk their dogs on the beach and captured these shots on an i-pad yesterday afternoon. It seems that this vanishing sand event is a not a unique occurrence. It has happened before but I am not certain how long ago. The good news is that on that occasion the beach eventually recovered and the sand came back.

The images below I took myself. They show how that same part of the shore at Mewslade Bay –  the part which is now totally denuded of sand to reveal the underlying wave-cut platform – looked prior to the storms, with deep sand extending up the beach as far as the fault gully that connects it with the dry valley beyond. I am told that an estimated depth of 2 – 3 feet of sand has been washed away and that rocks shattered by the waves lie all around. Many of these rocks no doubt derived from the fault breccia that surrounds the gully. I wish I could be there myself to record the details of this storm-driven revelation of the underlying geology.

It is interesting to note that the sand moves around this whole area on both a short-term and long-term basis – eroding in one area and being deposited in another (May, V. J. 2007). This can be seen (and I have been recording it over recent years) in the way that beach topography changes with deeper or shallower levels of sand, maybe even between tides, as seen from the relationship between fixed objects and the changing levels of sand at Rhossili and Whiteford Sands; also, for instance, by the uncovering of once submerged and buried forest timbers, ancient peat layers, and glacial deposits (like at Broughton Bay). Sand dunes are cut away (for example, at Llangennith and Whiteford Point) and sand banks accumulate.

The sand, however, is a finite resource. The purely mineral part at least is not being formed to any significant degree at the present. The sand deposits from around the Gower Peninsula were left there by melting ice sheets and are a product of glaciation. While glaciers and ice sheets moved down towards the coast, rocks were picked up by the passage of the ice over the ground, and these were responsible for grinding to minute fragments the rock over which they traversed. When the ice started to melt and retreat, the rocks and sand were dumped. This is how the sand arrived in Gower.

There are concerns about the way this valuable resource of sand is being exploited. There are worldwide fears about the impact of removing too much sand from an un-renewable resource. A documentary film has recently been released called Sand Wars – drawing attention to this potential problem.

Click here for more posts about Mewslade Bay on Jessica’s Nature Blog.

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Natural Patterns on Rhossili Beach – Part 6

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

Natural patterns in the sand left by the out-going tide

You can see from this final photograph (6.11) that a vast area of several square kilometres of sand was covered in complex ripples and patterns – left by the out-going tide after a stormy night and rough seas (December 2013).

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Rhossili Beach in December

View across Rhossili Beach in December 2014

View across Rhossili Beach in December 2014

View across Rhossili Beach in December 2014

The beach at Rhossili reflects the changing tides, seasons, and weather. The light or lack of it influences the whole atmosphere of the place. The degree of sunshine and warmth affects the number of visitors. The prevalence of white surf shows how stormy it has been. Always changing, endlessly intriguing, sometimes challenging – especially in winter. Nothing deters some walkers from venturing across the 5 kilometres of sand, whatever the weather. It can be cold, blowy and very wet in winter. However, it is always a treat to settle down (as I and my lap-top have done many times) with a hot coffee and delicious cake, and admire the fantastic view of Rhossili Bay from the comfort of the Bay Bistro in the village on the top of the cliff!

Postcard advertising the Bat Bistro in Rhossili, Gower, South Wales.

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Washed Ashore – Seal Humerus Bone

A study of a single seal humerus bone, from the upper proximal part of the forelimb, shown from various angles to demonstrate the different appearance of each facet. Probably a Grey Seal bone. See Lisa Maye Hodgetts, PhD Thesis 1999, A manual for the identification of the post-cranial skeleton of the North Atlantic Phocid Seals (Appendix B, B.4 Humerus, B.4.1 Adult Humerus, in “Animal Bones and Human Society in the Late Younger Stone Age of Arctic Norway”, Vol.2 of 2, p 321).

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Washed Ashore – A Decomposing Grey Seal

Skull of Grey Seal exposed by rotting flesh

The next stage of Nature’s recycling process – not a pretty sight! These two images show a decomposing carcass of an adult Grey Seal washed ashore at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula. The soft tissues are disintegrating but still holding the bones together except for the loss of some small end bones from the flippers. The skull is partially exposed, showing the characteristic shape of cranium, mandible and teeth that are diagnostic and distinguishing features for this species.

Decomposing body of a Grey Seal on a sandy beach

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Washed Ashore – Dead Grey Seals at Rhossili

Young dead Grey Seal washed up on sandy beach with people walking by

Amongst the inanimate items like plastic crates, shoes, fishing nets and floats, washed ashore  by storms during Christmas week at Rhossili, there were some more distressing casualties. Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) love to swim and fish in the waters around the Gower Peninsula. I often catch tantalising glimpses of them in the water, diving around the kelp beds near Worms Head or upright in the water with just the head poking above the surface, eying me curiously as I watch them. However, in violent gale-driven seas, accidents can happen. Sometimes the seals are unable to get to the surface to breathe, sometimes they are dashed with force against the rocks. They drown.

In Christmas week I saw four dead Grey Seals washed up onto the strandline of Rhossili Beach. One was this freshly killed young individual (possibly still classifiable as a pup) – eyeless and bloody from scavenging birds. Another was a very large adult male more than two metres long. This had been dead a bit longer and starting to show signs of decomposition. Two others were also mature adults but in stages of advanced decomposition and obviously had been rolling too and fro for some time with the tides.

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Washed Ashore – Flotsam Shoes

White trainer shoe washed up on beach with seashells

An assortment of summer flip-flop sandals, trainer shoes, sturdy lace-ups, and a yellow wellington boot – all washed up onto the strand-lines at Rhossili and Whiteford on the Gower Peninsula in Christmas week 2013.

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