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.
COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2014
All Rights Reserved