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Written by Dr Rhoda Ballinger, SEP Chair

An opportunity to introduce our visiting visual artist, Heather, to an old friend from Barry, resulted in my May Walk becoming a pleasant stroll from Barry Island to Porthkerry along the Vale of Glamorgan coastline. Although this was a rather familiar, relatively local stretch of coast for me, sharing the experience with Heather and researching the walk afterwards revealed many fascinating aspects of this coast – it’s certainly much more than just the home of Gavin and Stacey! I hope you’ll agree!

Barry Island beach nostalgia

As the two-carriage train clanked its way slowly into the station at Barry Island on a grey, overcast Thursday in late spring, it was hard to imagine the bustling excitement of families armed with bucket and spades and other beach paraphernalia on sunny summer weekend trains. Walking through the deserted and somewhat tired-looking Fun Fair to the seafront, even the brightly coloured dinosaur didn’t instil too much of the Barrybados vibe which has attracted generations of South Walians to this iconic location.

Whitmore Bay looking towards the N Devon coast

Barry Island amusement park

Meeting with Heather in one of the many seafront cafes for brunch, there was a little more buzz; however, it still was quite a challenge to explain the significance of Barry Island to my guest. Heather looked slightly bemused as I outlined the history of the famous Majestic/Butlins Holiday Camp which had over many decades provided a unforgettable, unique holiday experience for hundreds of thousands of those ‘of modest means’ and which, along with other similar camps elsewhere along the British coast, had created a public nostalgia which had inspired the popular TV sitcom Hi-de-Hi. Now the site of a Bovis Homes housing development on Nell’s Point, I was struggling to recall my memories of thirty years ago, when the derelict holiday camp with its rows and rows of white, flat-roofed chalets which dominated the Whitmore Bay seascape. 

With a slight break in the clouds and a falling tide, we ventured onto the wide expanse of sandy beach which understandably remains such an attraction at weekends. The view across the Inner Bristol Channel to the Somerset and North Devon coasts always inspires and the gentle, relaxing sound of the sea lapping at the water’s edge is such a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the promenade. However, frequent tannoy announcements periodically break the peace to remind you that this is an urban beach which must kept clean and tidy. The frequent instructions to dispose of your litter responsibly, alongside daily cleaning by local groups, does seem to be working, although the recent erroneous closure of the beach here due a malfunctioning water quality monitoring system has probably not instilled much public confidence (BBC news article). Unfortunately, the slightly brownish, turbid waters of the Estuary, are also frequently incorrectly interpreted by visitors as being dirty – clearly there’s lots of work for SEP and partners to do to try to educate the public on such matters!

Whitmore Bay looking towards the promenade

Friar’s Point geological wonders

Given that most of my previous visits to Barry Island have been instructing scores of Marine and Environmental Geography university students over many decades and in many weathers into the coastal management of this coast, it was almost inevitable that we had to take a slight detour onto the rocky shore of Friar’s Point to point out the Barry Island unconformity and then go on to study the crinoidal limestones on the Point itself. 

Although much of the Barry Island unconformity was largely obscured by brown seaweed, the contrasting angles of the rock layers at the top and bottom of the low-lying cliff were visible even to a non-specialist.   As I explained to Heather, the underlying rocks (which are pointing towards the left in the photo) are ancient Carboniferous limestones which were laid down about 335 million years ago in warm tropical shallow seas, a bit like those off the east coast of Australia today (imagine Barry Island on the Great Barrier Reef!)   The series of rocks lying on top however were deposited much, much later (around 200 million years ago in the Triassic) on land, many as screes and river sediments emanating from sudden flash floods which sporadically engulfed the desert-like environment of the shores of the large salty lake around which dinosaurs roamed.  Geologists love this site because the unconformity, which represents a significant gap in time, is a bit of an enigma and is particularly well displayed at this site.  What happened during the missing millions of years? Geologists have looked at all sorts of clues in the rocks here to try to understand this.  If you’re interested check out this website to find out what they think happened. I’m particularly also intrigued by such unconformities as they were the inspiration for James Hutton, the Father of Modern Geology, in establishing key principles of geological science.

On the very tip at Friar’s Point, it was easier to demonstrate the geological interest, as the white minerals of fossils were now gleaming in the early afternoon sunshine.  As the photo shows, the Carboniferous limestones teem with fossils, evidence of ancient marine life.   Most obvious fossils are crinoids, marine animals which, with appendages which open up like a flower on a stalk, confusingly resemble plants more than animals, hence their common name, sea lily.   These ancient, distant relatives of sea urchins and starfish, proliferated in the shallow waters of the time, not unsimilar to those where their living ancestors reside today in seas of the Gulf of Mexico and off Indonesia.   Despite some rummaging around, our best finds of the day were broken fragments of the fossils, looking more like sticks of rock and polo mints than beautiful sea lilies.

Fossil crinoids (left) and the angular unconformity (right)

Shore treats –  Old Harbour to Watch House Bay

If you want to avoid the longer route hugging the main road to Cold Knap, crossing the wide expanse of sand at low water between Friar’s Point and The Knap is preferable, although you do have to negotiate a small stream which meanders haphazardly across the beach and creates quite a challenge for those ill-prepared for such an obstacle. Not only is the route much quicker, but it also incorporates many features of interest – even more than we’d anticipated, as you’re about to find out.

Given Heather’s interest in tides of the Severn, we made a slight detour on the beach to study the muddier backshore behind the Old Harbour. Notwithstanding the decayed remains of a stranded and abandoned boat and an obligatory beach traffic cone, the backshore is remarkably natural, given its location. A saltmarsh sequence has developed here which sports a variety of hardy, adaptable plants which can tolerate the harsh conditions of the intertidal zone. At the edge of the mud, we carefully stooped down to study some salicornia (samphire) but resisted gathering it to garnish future fish suppers! 

Salicornia and the marshy backshore with the current causeway

How this shoreline must have changed since 1896 when a causeway was constructed to provide easier access to the ‘Island’ for visitors who previously had had to negotiate the tides, like us, or take the more fashionable paddle-steamer provided by the Yellow Funnel Line. With its current road and rail links, the causeway now dominates the view and provides a hard, static structure against which rough seas must occasionally pound. Considerable siltation must have occurred following the causeway’s construction despite the shoreline looking so long established today. There were, however, constant reminders of the ephemeral nature of this shore as we moved towards The Knap. Fresh footprints from dogs, humans and birds criss-crossing over the sands would be washed away by the incoming tide within hours. The bubbling natural spring in the sands adjacent to Watch House Bay would also be engulfed by the incoming salty waters. Finding this spring was the highlight of my visit, having never seen or heard anything like this before. Photographing and videoing it from all angles and to the accompaniment of a constant burbling sound resembling an overactive coffee-percolator, I was fascinated by the endless bubbling up of the freshwater into the beach pools – Barry’s pseudo-volcanic world!

Freshwater spring on beach close to the Old Harbour

The Knap –  the lake, lido and limestone pebbles

Ascending the slipway onto the Knap one is immediately aware that the coast here has a much more genteel and relaxed feel about it.  Immediately behind the seafront immaculate public gardens surround a large artificial lake, the inspiration for Gillian Clarke’s poem ‘Cold Knap Lake’.  This poem, which captures Clarke’s haunting childhood memories of the lake, alludes to a very different, more chilling experience than ours.  Even the sizeable population of ducks and swans seemed to be enjoying the peace and calm of the Knap that day, silently huddling in groups around on the water’s edge.  Previously one of the largest cold-water lidos in the UK, there have been campaigns to rebuild the attraction, but, despite considerable celebrity and community support, these have not been successful in contrast to similar efforts at Clevedon on the other side of the Estuary.  However, I was to find out later that there are indeed new plans afoot for this area: an exciting local community scheme has been proposed to breathe new life into the iconic but somewhat dilapidated Old Lifeguards Building to create The Reef Coastal Exploration Centre (see inset below).

Knap Lake at Cold Knap

Whilst the lake is a key attraction at Cold Knap for visitors and the many of the locals residing in the smart residential areas behind the seafront, it was the long pebble beach of gleaming white round limestone pebbles that appealed most to us.  This stunning, long, steeply-shelving beach stretches in a great arc from the Knap around the bay towards and beyond Porthkerry to the west.  This impressive natural feature is a reminder of the power of the sea and winter storms on beaches which are exposed to incoming southwesterlies.  We contemplated the incredible strength of the winter storms which had created the beach and each of the ridges on the beaches seaward side. We feared what future climate change might mean for this beach system, given the road and cliff will not allow the beach system to roll back.   Indeed, all the beaches we’d visited on our walk suffer from this same issue, making the problem of coastal squeeze a real likelihood.  No wonder that the community is being encouraged to get involved in the monitoring of the nearby beach at Whitmore Bay through the CoastSnap Project.

Storm beach at the Knap

CoastSnap site at Barry Island

Walking across the pebbles of the more-or-less flat upper beach, our attention soon was diverted to watching the wind surfers who had presumably also conquered the demands of the descent of such a very steep beach on the seaward side!  Knowing that there is a National Coastwatch Institution station at nearby Nell’s Point (see below), we could relax watching thrilling acrobatics of fearless wind surfers who seemed to be enjoying the challenges associated with the increasingly choppy seas.   We also admired the pretty flowers of the many plants along the backshore which provided welcome bright dashes of colour against the grey-white pebbly beach. These include the occasional mauve native marsh-mallow alongside much more dominant plum and white valerians, presumably escapees from nearby gardens.

Wind surfer’s acrobatics on the beach at Cold Knap

Flowers on the backshore at Cold Knap

No introductory visit to Cold Knap would be complete without viewing the site of the old roman villa, a late third century ‘mansio,’ thought to have been a guest house for travellers.  Set neatly and strangely in line with the modern neighbouring apartment properties, the floor plan of villa was very clear to us –  with over twenty rooms arranged around a courtyard, this was no ordinary B&B!   Given its proximity to the coast at the time (the gardens on the Knap are thought to have been an inlet of the sea), it’s likely that many of its visitors would have come by sea rather than by land although the A48 lies along the route of an acknowledged roman road.  Archaeologists suggest that the Romans would have needed many stopping points along the Bristol Channel given the capability of their boats at the time.

Roman villa at Cold Knap

Over the hills and not so far away, to Porthkerry

After our gentle stroll around Cold Knap we were in for some more strenuous exercise. The antics of a group of energetic sea gulls which were riding the thermals were, however, a most welcome distraction as we ascended the steps and steep grassy slope above the Knap.  As we continued along the coastal path towards Porthkerry, I was reminded of my first outing here after the initial travel constraints of COVID.   The view from the top of the hill of the wide expanse of the Bristol Channel offshore at the time had been quite stunning, almost shocking. Today, it was just a little dull given the greyness of the cloud cover and sea.  However, we were shortly into the beautiful deciduous woodland which hugs the coast and were soon admiring some of the majestic and mature trees which are so prized here. 

All too soon, we were descending an even steeper slope and longer set of steps down to Porthkerry Country Park.  With no time to look for the pirate treasure which legend suggests lies hidden beneath the Golden Stairs, and tired from our earlier exertions, we only made a brief visit to the pebbly shoreline.   Looking back along the storm beach to the Knap, we admired the impressive cliffs which surround the bay, reminiscent of those further west along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast.  However, even I did not have the energy to explain the geology at this point, so we made our way to the café for a very late lunch.  Crossing quickly over neatly laid out boardwalks and glancing at the many interesting information panels along our route, we soon realised that we’d really need to have another visit to really appreciate the attractions here.  So, we just sat outside and ate our well-earned lunch and enjoyed the view of the impressive Victorian viaduct which dominates the valley here, trying not to contemplate our return up those not so Golden Stairs.

View towards Cold Knap and Barry from Wales Coastal Path

Seagulls enjoying the thermals!

Porthkerry beach with information panel

The Victorian Viaduct at Porthkerry

Final thoughts­

Another fascinating coast where there is such diversity of shoreline within a relatively short distance.  Even on a relatively dull day, the seaviews of the islands and Somerset coast on the other side of the Channel are most impressive and so, why not sample these Barry delights along the Wales Coastal Path?   If my writing hasn’t tempted you so far, then I’m sure the perspectives of three very proud Barry locals, provided below, will inspire!

Whitmore Bay on a previous sunny day!

Nick, local resident and active member of the local National Coastwatch Station

My connection with the Estuary/Barry: I’ve been a resident for the last 25 years, having returned to my hometown. I learned to swim and sail in the waters around Barry.  Our family are regular beach users, and I am a watchkeeper with NCI Nell’s Point on Barry Island.

What I like most about the Estuary/Barry coast: I really enjoy the different moods of the weather and water combined

Future challenges – dealing with the increase in water usage and keeping folks safe, ensuring the water quality is good, dealing with new erosion points as sea levels rise

How I imagine the Estuary/Barry coast in 2050:  Sea levels will have increased by 2050 which will make the high water mark very interesting! Also, I suspect the use of the water will continue to increase with possibly larger vessels and a number of as yet uninvented methods of taking to the water!

Gwyn, local resident and Manager of the Wales Coastal Monitoring Centre

My connection with the Estuary/Barry: My great-grandad was a commercial diver in Barry docks with an old school copper diving helmet/air hose! Every generation in my family has worked in the marine sector since. I’ve maintained a marine career as a skipper/hydrographer and now coastal surveyor, I’m forever drawn to these shores and I appreciate them more as I get older. I’m a voluntary lifeguard coach and I am now able to share my childhood coastal experiences with my own children.

What I like most about the Estuary/Barry coast: The quiet spots. Going for runs across the deserted limestone intertidal at Porthkerry or paddle boarding the sheltered waters at the Old Harbour, just being next to the coast has become important to me.

Future challenges: Most topical is water quality from CSO’s and then managing an increase of users but there are plenty of successful models to learn from. Long-term climate change impacts with sea level rise and increased flooding/erosion is also a significant challenge.

How I imagine the Estuary/Barry coast in 2050:  More populated but well managed. In recent history, Barry has been underutilised, until COVID when locals and new residents flocked to the coast to make the most of its wellbeing benefits. COVID has unlocked Barry’s natural potential with increased walkers and sea users, I think Barry will increase in popularity and Whitmore be more like a ‘city’ beach but I think increased traffic will be managed sustainably and add value to locals and tourists.

Janet, local resident and former Severn Estuary Partnership Manager

My connection with Barry: I was born and bred in Barry. My maternal grandparents moved here, when Barry was thriving as a seaport and an ever-expanding town. They had a stall on Barry Island fairground selling ice cream and candy floss to coal miners who came to Barry Island each year for their one annual trip to the seaside. In winter months my grandfather sold coal to homes in the west end of Barry from his horse and cart.

As a young adult my all-consuming interest was sailing, and I became the first woman in Barry Yacht Club to become a qualified Offshore Yachtmaster.  I became an Auxiliary Coast Guard working day and night shifts at the Nells Point Lookout Station, accessed through Butlins Holiday Camp at that time. I wrote a monthly column bringing news of the Bristol Channel to Yachting Monthly magazine readers for many years. Later, I became a yacht broker based at Barry Harbour, and then the admin officer for the Flat Holm Project, which included crewing on the Flat Holm Island boat and giving guided tours to island visitors.

After becoming intensely interested in the natural environment of our seas and coasts, I eventually became the Project Manager for the Severn Estuary Project, tasked with developing the first-ever management strategy for the Severn Estuary. I revisited many of my sailing haunts on the Estuary, but this time facilitating stakeholder workshops for a diverse range of professionals and recreational users.

What I like most about the Barry coast – Barry town (including Barry Island) is blessed with five different beaches: Porthkerry Beach and the Knap beach forming a pebble bay, plus the sandy beaches of Watchtower Bay, Whitmore Bay and Jackson’s Bay. I like the dynamic environment caused by our second highest tidal rise and fall in the world. I’ve visited the Bay of Fundy in Canada, the only place in the world with a greater tidal range than the Severn Estuary. The Bay of Fundy is marketed to tourists as a place where you can “walk on the ocean floor” when the tide is low. However, for me the beauty of the cliffs of the Vale of Glamorgan Heritage Coast is even more dramatic, as are the low-lying wetlands and wildlife sanctuaries further up-channel, where rivers from valleys and fields flow into the Estuary

Future challenges – achieving and maintaining good water quality. This concern includes the water quality on all the rivers flowing into the estuary. Of course, flooding and coastal defence issues are with us too as storms seem to be increasing and global warming continues.

My vision of the coast in 20/50 years time – I hope that the Estuary and all that it offers will be cherished and its natural areas carefully managed for future generations to enjoy. I hope that people will understand and value this dynamic environment, where the waters will never be a clear blue, because the seabed and its sediments are constantly churned and held in suspension by the immensely powerful tides and currents.

Further information

If you want to find out more about this walk and its interesting features check out the following websites:

Online walks:

Porthkerry Park to the Knap

Weatherman walking – Barry to Rhoose Point

Audio stories to accompany your walk

Historical aspects:

Cold Knap Roman Site

Roman Barry

The Romans in South Wales

Geological aspects:

Discovering geology – crinoids

Virtual fieldtrip to Barry

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 (! 

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. 


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:

Further sources of information

Cosmeston Country Park and Medieval Village –

The dinosaur discovery at Lavernock Point –

Marconi and Lavernock Point –;

South Wales Geologists’ Association leaflet on the Penarth-Lavernock Point coast —

Western Gateway and the launch of the Severn Estuary Independent Commission –,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:

For further details about working in Cardiff University please contact John Evans, email:

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

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 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 If you are interested in a placement opportunity with SEP, please get in touch.

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