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Dr Rhoda Ballinger Welcomes Simon Bunn as the Vice-Chair of the Partnership

As Chair of the Severn Estuary Partnership, I’m delighted to announce that Simon Bunn from North Somerset Council has become our first SEP Vice-Chair. Taking on this new role for the next three years, Simon will be a key contact and representative for SEP on the English side of the estuary, championing SEP and and acting as a spokesperson at external meetings, as appropriate. With Simon’s wealth of experience and knowledge of the estuary and related matters, he will contribute so much to the Partnership in this role, as I’m sure you’ll all agree from reading his biography below. We look forward to working with Simon in his new position and wish him every success in this role” – Dr Rhoda Ballinger, SEP Chair

Simon is a civil and structural engineer by training and spent 20 years with consultants delivering multi million pound commercial and educational development across the UK and abroad. This also included the company acting as expert witnesses for maritime insurance companies and port refurbishment. He was appointed by Cambridge City Council as the first Sustainable Drainage Engineer in local government and worked in a multidisciplinary team on over a billion pounds worth of growth in the sub-region. He was an early proponent of this nature based approach to flood risk management. Elements of Simon’s work informed the development of the Flood and Water Management Act and he actively promoted the approach at national and international conferences, providing oral evidence at the Water All Party Parliamentary Group. He was a member of one of the first catchment partnerships and collaborated on delivering fish passes and other improvements on the River Cam. He was Honorary Engineer to Hobsons Conduit Trust Charity.

Simon Bunn, Vice-Chair of SEP

After moving to Somerset, Simon joined the Internal Drainage Board working on regulating the impacts of nationally significant infrastructure and representing the interests of the farming community. He currently leads a small Flood and Water Team at North Somerset Council (NSC), with an extensive range of work that includes statutory reservoir management, delivering natural flood management and property level flood resilience schemes. Currently he is running a series of projects to improve NSC owned Victorian sea walls, using a combination of modern and traditional techniques. He is heavily involved in development management within the district and provides expert evidence at planning appeal enquiries. He represents NSC on the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, is the current Chair of the Association of Severn Estuary Relevant Authorities and Vice Chair of the Severn Estuary Coastal Group. He is also an accomplished photographer and has had work exhibited at the RWA. He is a long distance walker and is never long without a sandy boot.

Simon says, ‘I am delighted to be vice chair of the Severn Estuary Partnership, living and working on the Estuary. I’m fascinated and motivated by the unique specialness of the natural, cultural and historic nature of the estuary. I am committed to finding ways in which the community, wildlife and industry can successfully coexist both now and in the future in this sometimes challenging but beautiful environment. I hope to be able to play a small part in continuing the important work of SEP especially at a time when the estuary is under many pressures, including the profound changes that rising sea levels will bring.’


Written by Dr Rhoda Ballinger, SEP Chair

What are the walks about?

Although I’ve been associated with the Severn Estuary Partnership for years, since taking over as the Chair of the SEP Management Group and retiring from my academic post in Cardiff University, I’ve been keen to explore the shores of our Estuary further and to share my thoughts and photos in a monthly blog/posting.  Over the next twelve months, through a series of monthly walks around the Estuary, I hope to cover at least one section from every local authority’s shoreline.  As part of this project, I hope to meet people from around the Estuary and find out what makes the Estuary so special to so many.  Hopefully, it will inspire you too to get out and explore our Estuary too and share your observations and thoughts as well! 

If you’ve any suggestions for particular sections I should visit or people I should talk too please do get in touch through the SEP email (Severn@Cardiff.ac.uk)! 

View from path towards Penarth and Cardiff

April 2024 Walk: Penarth – Lavernock Point (Vale of Glamorgan)

To start off my series of walks, I had the good fortune to walk the Penarth to Lavernock Point stretch of coast earlier in the month with Heather Green, from Arizona State University.  Based in Cardiff University for the next few months, Heather is working around the Estuary with SEP and others on an interdisciplinary art project examining and celebrating the ecology and culture of our Estuary.

The Cliff Top Path

We started our walk along the cliff top path at Penarth, where the famous French impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley captured the character of this dynamic coast with its unique geology and spectacular tidal range well over a hundred years ago. Unlike the painting, there was constant hustle and bustle along the cliff path as we strode alongside dog walkers, young family groups and others enjoying the coastal vistas – well at least, until we reached the end of the tarmacked path.  This marks the end of a stretch of open green space fronting some impressive, spacious and highly sought-after detached houses.  Beyond this, we had the path to ourselves and were able to enjoy vistas across the estuary through occasional openings in the woodland.  However, along the entire path there were frequent reminders of the active, eroding nature of the cliffs, something we were to experience first-hand later in the day.

Lavernock Point

At Lavernock Point we ventured into the graveyard surrounding the little limestone church of St Lawrence. Founded by the monks of St Augustine’s Abbey across the Channel in Bristol, this was once the parish church for the manor of Cosmeston and associated medieval village. Now, its new neighbours are a small new housing development and the popular Marconi Holiday Village, with self-catering chalets hugging the cliffs to capture ‘spectacular views across the Bristol Channel.’

We reflected on how much the community here must have changed over the centuries, but how the whole land/seascape might be transformed further by some more ambitious proposals for tidal energy generation in the Severn, most notably the previously discussed ‘Cardiff Weston’ barrage, extending from this point across the Channel to Brean Down. We await the findings of the Western Gateway’s Independent Severn Estuary Commission which will ‘re-examine the potential for a world leading tidal energy scheme’ to see if and what will be proposed for the Estuary.

We were reminded of further estuary connections and great technical breakthroughs as we read the bronze plaque commemorating Marconi and Kemp’s historic achievement of 1897.  At this very point, on 13 May 1897, Marconi transmitted the first-ever radio transmission across open sea to Flatholm. 

The foreshore at Lavernock Point

Carefully traversing the cobbles and rocky shore platform at Lavernock Point, we were treated to broad open views across the estuary to the islands and beyond as well as hidden treats in the innumerable rock pools and on the rock ledges themselves.  As someone who occasionally likes to attempt landscape photography, the views across the Estuary always fascinate me.  The ever-changing tides, sea state, weather and offshore boat/shipping activities make for endless photographic opportunities, even if they’re not always realised!  Today, it was a particularly calm still day with little offshore activity although there was some distraction as the occasional but somewhat elusive oyster catcher flew by.

However, it was the ecology and geology of the ­rock pools and ledges and the artistic forms, textures and micro-seascapes created by them which were our focus on the foreshore today.  As Heather is particularly interested in our rich intertidal areas which are only revealed at low tide, we spent awhile, and with varying degrees of success (at least on my part), trying to capture these hidden worlds photographically.  In the slightly hazy mid-afternoon sunshine, the silvery mucus/slime trails of sea snails (molluscs) made intricate and complex abstract patterns on the rocks.  Innumerable limpets and white beach lichen encrusted the harsh environment of the rock ledges. There was also added visual interest from occasional periwinkles, oyster shells and whelks. The colour of some bright red shiny shells, really ‘popped out’ from the underlying wet grey limestone slabs. As the tide was still receding, we were also able to witness the ever-changing worlds of turbid shallow rock pools in the mid-shore which were supporting the delicate feathery branches of floating ‘Coral Weed’ (the red seaweed, Corallina officinalis) and various small brown, branching wracks.   

The similarities between some of the living molluscs on the shore and those from around 200 million years ago, now fossilised in the rocks and pebbles on the beach, was staggering.  The analogies continued – we were looking at our own mini-‘Jurassic Park, comprising alternating beds of lighter coloured limestones and dark shales from the Lower Lias (Jurassic).  These rocks were formed in a former marine environment, the configuration of which was controlled by an ancient Bristol Channel Basin.  Perfectly-formed fossilised ripple marks in some of the rock slabs lay strewn across the beach were lying on top of- or at very close to -ripples made only hours before our visit in the muddy sands of the foreshore.  The occasional impression of an ammonite, now of course long extinct was a reminder of the very different world of 200 million years ago.

The beach walk back to Penarth

Fortunately, we had a lovely calm day in which to explore the hidden gems of the beach and cliffs as we walked back from Lavernock Point as the tide began to turn.   This is a much-celebrated stretch of geology culminates at its southern end in the amazing sequence of rocks at Penarth Head which has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Unfortunately, on this visit we didn’t have time to explore Penarth Head itself or the site of the ‘dragon robber,’ meat-eating dinosaur (Dracoraptor hangigani), which was only discovered ten years ago close to Lavernock Point.  However, we were able to still appreciate some of geology of the foreshore and cliffs as we walked back in time, traversing the even more ancient rocks of the Triassic. The distinct and brightly-coloured red and grey green mudstones of this stretch of coast are the remains of lake sediments laid down when this part of the ‘estuary’ was experiencing hot arid, desert-like conditions – certainly, not like those we experienced on our walk!  Attractive pink and white gypsum forms distinctive, discontinuous bands in the cliffs along here, but given the active erosion that afternoon, we had to make do with just examining the large pink and white lumps of it which had recently fallen onto the beach.  Interestingly, there was a relatively small and short-lived industry just east of Lavernock Point, based on this mineral.  Alabaster, as it is more commonly known, was mined here from the 1872, and supplied many of the fine buildings of Cardiff with an ornamental stone particularly for indoor use.  Indeed, the main staircase of Main Building in Cardiff University, where the Severn Estuary Partnership Office is housed, is adorned with an impressive display of pink alabaster!

Apart from the lumps of alabaster on the beach, we had further reminders of active cliff and beach processes, including armoured mud balls, curious rounded balls of mud clad with small jagged stones, which were scattered across the foreshore.  Alongside the gentle noise of the sea lapping up on the beach, there was a constant ‘swish’ as slivers of shaley materials slid gently from the cliff profile.  Then, a great ‘thud’ sounded as a dining table-sized slab of limestone crashed onto the upper beach!   Unfortunately, the event was all over in a few seconds and, as I rushed to get my camera, all that remained was a small cloud of rock dust!  A combination of undercutting from the base of the cliff, the weathering effect of tree roots intruding into the joints and cracks of the rocks of the upper cliff and the impact of our recent extremely wet weather certainly were making their mark that afternoon as we witnessed a number of further mini-landslides, all of which eluded my camera skills.   As we walked further towards the seafront at Penarth, the need for human intervention for controlling these erosive processes became ever more apparent.  Toe-protection structures eventually made way for full sea defences in front of the RNLI lifeboat station and the promenade beyond, confirming the need for the Hold the Line shoreline management policy for this northern section of our beach walk.

Overall Impressions

Back on the esplanade in Penarth as we sipped much-needed beverages at one of several establishments, we reflected on our experiences from the walk.  Although I’ve walked this stretch of coast innumerable times before, introducing it to Heather had made me realise what a very special, unique sea/landscape this is.  There are not only breath-taking views across the Channel, but also hidden worlds and amazing ‘natural art’ in the rocks and rockpools.   Heather, whilst coming from the contrasting – and to us Severn folk, the much more ‘exotic’ tidal landscape of the Gulf of California – also seemed impressed with our ‘finds.’  Later commenting on some of her first impressions of our muddy shores, she highlighted the sense of mystery and the layers of history which have created our special shores. 

FURTHER INFORMATION ON THIS WALK

If you want to do this walk along the Wales Coast Path, make sure you’re prepared for the weather and please take note of the tides before you go, ensuring you do the walk along the beach on a falling tide. Suitable footgear is also essential on the somewhat slippery and large cobbles, particularly on Lavernock Stony Beach. 

If you want to find out more about this stretch of coast, check out the ‘Coast and Pier Walk’ – Sully to Penarth Pier Walk (5 miles / 8 km). See: https://assets-global.website-files.com/602452bf511ad639c3e8aab6/605ded4492408acf33e52ebc_5-Coast-and-Pier-Walk-online-leaflet-English.pdf

Further sources of information

Cosmeston Country Park and Medieval Village – https://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/enjoying/Coast-and-Countryside/cosmeston-lakes-country-park/Cosmeston-Lakes-Country-Park.aspx

The dinosaur discovery at Lavernock Point – https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/20/welsh-dinosaur-bones-confirmed-as-new-jurassic-species

Marconi and Lavernock Point –

https://www.visitthevale.com/inspiration/whats-the-vales-link-with-marconi;

South Wales Geologists’ Association leaflet on the Penarth-Lavernock Point coast — http://swga.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Walk_Penarth.pdf

Western Gateway and the launch of the Severn Estuary Independent Commission – https://western-gateway.co.uk/western-gateway-launches-severn-estuary-commission-cardiff#:~:text=The%20estuary%20is%20home%20to,of%20the%20UK’s%20electricity%20needs


Heather exploring the rocky coast at Lavernock Point

View from cliff top back towards Penarth (from a previous even sunnier walk)

The plaque celebrating the first-ever radio transmission across the sea

View from Lavernock Point across to the islands

Foreshore worlds near Lavernock Point

Some finds on the beach – red mudstones, pinky white gypsum (alabaster) and armoured mudballs

Active cliff processes along our beach walk

Evening at Penarth (Jan 2023)

Do you have a passion for working collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to drive positive change in coastal project development and coordination? An exciting opportunity has arisen for an enthusiastic individual to join the Severn Estuary Partnership (SEP) team as a Projects Coordinator.

SEP is a dynamic Coastal Partnership based in Cardiff, hosted by the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Cardiff University. Our mission is to collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders, including local authorities, port authorities, fishermen, farmers, and local communities, to enhance the management of the Severn Estuary.

We are seeking a dedicated Projects Coordinator to play a pivotal role in ensuring the successful execution of SEP’s initiatives. As the Projects Coordinator, you will work closely with a wide range of stakeholders to develop and coordinate projects that contribute to the sustainable management of the Severn Estuary.

The successful candidate will have experience of partnership working, engaging and managing stakeholders and great influencing and negotiation skills to help steer delivery of projects. You will have the aptitude to think strategically, while keeping on top of the detail. Excellent written and verbal communication skills will be needed, and brilliant inter-personal skills will enable you to work with people from different specialisms across different channels and situations.

This position is part time (28 hours per week), available immediately and is fixed term for 12 months.

Salary: £32,332 – £34,980 per annum, pro rata (Grade 5)

Informal enquiries may be made to Alys Morris, email: MorrisA18@cardiff.ac.uk

For further details about working in Cardiff University please contact John Evans, email: EvansJ13@cardiff.ac.uk

Date Advertised: 26 January 2024
Closing Date: 18 February 2024
‘This project is funded by Welsh Government’s Local Places for Nature: Marine and Coastal Capacity Scheme, administered by WCVA.’

To apply, click here.

Severn Tidings, our annual magazine, has just been published! This years edition includes articles written by a wide range of contributors from all around the Severn Estuary. We’ve got articles on litter, coastal erosion and risk management, the England Coast Path, saltmarsh restoration, coastal communities and much more! Take a look by clicking the link below.

If you are interested in contributing to our next edition, please do get in touch at severn@cardiff.ac.uk.


Irish Sea Maritime Forum Virtual Conference 2023

Published on 1st December 2023

Written by Dr Rhoda Ballinger, Severn Estuary Partnership Chair

Rhoda Ballinger, our Chair, attended the recent Irish Sea Maritime Forum (ISMF)’s virtual conference which was chaired by our very own Emma McKinley, Cardiff University. The conference provided an interesting overview of progress in marine planning across the six administrations bordering the Irish Sea (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man). As most of the administrations have now adopted statutory marine plans, there was considerable discussion surrounding the implementation, monitoring and review of existing plans as well as the development of some quite innovative online planning portals to support decision-making (listed below). 

From an SEP perspective, the regional approach taken in Scotland through Marine Planning Partnerships, with support from Local Coastal Partnerships in facilitating stakeholder engagement, was particularly noteworthy.  It was also heartening to hear about efforts to promote cross-border compatibility between marine planning efforts.  These included the Coastal Partnership Network’s Transboundary Group (which SEP is involved with) and the recently published cross-border marine planning guide for our estuary.  This unique guide is a supplement to the two adopted plans for the estuary (Wales National Marine Plan; South West Marine Plan) and it provides additional clarity on matters relating to the management and governance of the estuary.   Anyone with interests or responsibilities related to the Severn Estuary should consult this document.  Given the scale of intensity of use in the Severn, it is interesting to note the intention of Welsh Government and the MMO to ‘optimise the use of space and incorporate opportunities for co-existence and co-operation with existing activities.’  This document also expresses their commitment to ‘ongoing and closer future collaboration within the Severn Estuary area’.

At larger geographical scales, the need to consider in-combination and cumulative effects of marine planning decisions was highlighted by the newly established Irish Sea Network, who have developed their 2030 vision for the Irish Sea.  Looking at the wider context of the Severn Estuary, upstream of the Bristol Channel, there may be lessons to be drawn from this approach, particularly in the light of possible renewed interest in offshore energy generation in the Bristol Channel.   

Given the usefulness of this meeting in providing an opportunity to learn from good practice elsewhere, and to reflect on marine planning in our own estuary, take note that next year’s ISMF’s conference, will be an in-person conference on the Isle of Man.  This will continue on the theme of marine planning, focusing on the relationship between marine planning and marine ecological quality.

Marine data and planning portals:


Public Perceptions of Disturbance around the Severn Estuary

Published on 7th November 2023

The Severn Estuary Partnership in collaboration with the Association of Severn Estuary Relevant Authorities and Natural England are running a project seeking to develop a better understanding of the public’s perceptions of the impact of disturbance on waterbird species in the Severn Estuary. The outputs of the project will inform the development of possible interventions for the Severn Estuary, aimed at minimising the impact of disturbance in particularly sensitive areas.  

This project, funded by Natural England and delivered by Afallen and the Severn Estuary Partnership, will help to build evidence towards a strategic solution for recreational disturbance in this area.

How can I participate?

If you visit the Severn Estuary, please complete this survey about what activities you undertake when you visit the Severn. It should take no more than about 5 minutes. Your data is very valuable in helping to develop a plan for protecting waterbirds and other wildlife.

We will use the results of the survey to help:

  • Understand how better to provide information to visitors
  • Plan for minimising disturbance to waterbirds from recreational activities, particularly at times of year when they are most sensitive, such as wintering
  • Prepare for possible further in-depth studies on how to best cater for the wide range of activities that people want to carry out in the Severn Estuary

The survey launched on 10 October and will close on 8 December. Any support you can provide before the survey closes will help us reach a wider audience. 


Tackling Invasive Non-Native Species in the Severn Estuary

Published 7th November 2023

The Severn Estuary Partnership and Association of Severn Estuary Relevant Authorities (ASERA) are in the early stages of drafting a cross-border biosecurity plan for the Severn Estuary, working with Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and APEM. This initiative aims to proactively address potential biosecurity threats, protect the unique biodiversity of the estuary, and ensure that both sides of the border benefit from shared knowledge and resources.

Through robust stakeholder engagement, fostering collaboration and drawing from the collective expertise and local knowledge of stakeholders, the outputs will be developed into a live resource, hosted on the SEP website.

Given the significance of this undertaking, we believe that a collaborative approach is vital. We highly value the expertise, insights, and perspectives that stakeholders like you bring to the table. Your involvement would be invaluable in shaping the plan, identifying potential challenges, and ensuring the implementation is robust and effective. This workshop forms the initial stage of the project and will provide an overview of invasive non-native species in the Severn Estuary, the issues they cause and actions in place to tackle them. We invite you to come along and discuss actions already being undertaken by your organisation, or group and actions that could be included in the biosecurity plan in the future.

There are two in person workshops being held at this stage of the project. Lunch will be provided. They will follow the same format and are kindly being hosted by Bristol Port Company and Associated British Ports. 

Funded by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, and with support from APEM, the project will run until March 2025, hosting a number of workshops as well as 1-2-1 interviews to help shape action and boost awareness around the Severn Estuary.


A critical review and analysis of Beachwatch data for the Severn Estuary

Published 20th October 2023

By Amy Foster, studying Marine Geography at Cardiff University 

Over the summer I have been lucky enough to undertake a research internship alongside SEP and Cardiff University, analysing litter levels on beaches surrounding the Severn Estuary using data from the Marine Conservation Society.

346,804 pieces of litter were cleared from beaches surrounding the Severn Estuary from 2010 to 2020, which poses a large threat to the estuary’s ecosystem. Plastic was the most common type of litter recorded and 52% of litter was labelled as ‘non-sourced’ (no identifiable source), making future intervention/management difficult. Certain beaches also showed unique pollution issues. For instance, Chesil Beach in Portishead was heavily polluted with glass. A staggering 40,462 pieces were cleared over a mere 4 years.

The experience has been invaluable in developing skills that are vital for my degree and future career. I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and would absolutely recommend a summer placement with SEP.

The map below shows the spread of litter on average across the surveyed beaches, and provides some further information about the litter sources on beaches with the highest quantities of marine litter.

If you would like more information about this study, or would like to read the full report, please get in touch via severn@cardiff.ac.uk. If you are interested in a placement opportunity with SEP, please get in touch.


Investigating land-based recreation and its impact on the Severn Estuary European Marine Site

Published 20th October 2023

Written by Amy McNutt, Cardiff University undergraduate student

My placement with SEP was incredibly enjoyable, thanks to the support of the SEP team as I got to work on an interesting project which let me utilise a range of skills. During my placement, I investigated the impact of land-based recreation on disturbance in the Severn Estuary European Marine Site. This involved mapping the distribution, frequency and intensity of land-based recreational activities, alongside habitat features and waterbird roost sites. Through the use of point density mapping of the land-based recreational activities, it can be seen that the major hot spots for land-based recreation occur in major cities and tourist towns, such as Weston-Super-Mare and Cardiff. This investigation outlined the data gaps on land-based recreation, as well as the limited literature surrounding certain activities like beach car parks. A key observation in this investigation was the impact of firework displays, particularly their proximity to roost sites and the creation of micro-plastics, including their impacts on habitat features and the Severn food web. Firework displays at three sites were categorised as a high intensity activity, highlighting that these displays should be more closely monitored, possibly through the replication of work like Devereux et al. (2022). Difficulty in the monitoring of land-based recreation, which resulted in the data gaps observed in this report, could potentially be addressed through the use and promotion of the ‘Wales Coastal Explorer App’. This would allow SEP and ASERA to educate the public about land-based recreational activities and their impact on the Severn Estuary habitat features and species. 

Figure 1: Map showing different types of known land-based recreation taking place around the Severn Estuary European Marine Site.

Figure 2: Map showing land-based recreation activity locations via kernel density.

If you would like more information about the study or would like to view the full report, get in touch via severn@cardiff.ac.uk. If you are interested in a placement opportunity with SEP, please get in touch.


Thoughts of SEP Chair John Harrison 24 March 2023

Published 30th March, 2023

I cannot believe how quickly the past 9 years have gone since I was asked to become chair of SEP. SEP is now in it’s 28th year and continues to achieve many successful outcomes for the estuary and the people of this wonderful ecosystem.

I have reflected on what I consider to be the underlying factors of SEP’S success and four come to mind. Partnership working, people, communications and a solid independent base.

Partnership working at local, regional and national level has enabled SEP to champion the estuary’s benefits as well as throw a spotlight on it’s challenges, in particular climate change, environmental quality and wildlife habitats. These challenges remain as difficult today as they were in 1995 when SEP was first established. However, I believe the level of awareness of these challenges are now better known and understood which augments well for seeking solutions in the future.

People make partnerships work. I have been in awe of all the people I have met who’s passion energy and expertise about the estuary has ensured our collective knowledge has grown considerably over the years.

Knowledge on it’s own is limited unless it is communicated far and wide. SEP has placed a high priority on both communicating with and listening to partners, stakeholders and communities around the estuary. SEP has embraced social media opportunities as well as recognising the inherent value face to face meetings bring, in particular our annual forum which I am  thrilled to say will be taking place later this year in Cardiff on the 8th June.

At the heart of SEP is a solid base of dedicated staff hosted within the school of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Cardiff University who have supported SEPs loyal and hardworking management group. They have all championed SEP values of inclusion, independence and innovative evidence based thinking far and wide. I would like to highlight how Dr Rhoda Ballinger has been instrumental in upholding these values and driving SEP forward since 1995. I am delighted she has taken over as chair of SEP and wish her every success.


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