Nigel Phillips, 11th December 2012

The Somerset Coastline

Nigel Phillips

Nigel Phillips, who has spent all his working life in nature reserves across tie county, soon realised when he came to
Somerset that he had a new cause to champion in the Somerset coastline- He now works as Somerset Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Ambassador.

Though apologetic about the slightly grandiose nature of his title he believes that there is a real job of work to be done in promoting and managing the county's coastal and marine environment. Historically the sea and coast have received far protection than the land which has a well publicised range of protective measures catering for National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific interest and Areas of Natural Beauty etc. The 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act seeks to change that and aims, among other things, to establish new protected areas in the marine environment.

Having set the scene, Nigel proceeded to give us a whistle stop tour of the Somerset coastline, emphasising some of its more important features. The Somerset Coast contains a variety of different habitat types supporting a great variety of wildlife.

He emphasised the many important features to be found in our own immediate vicinity. Uphill, Sand Point and Brean Down are all noted for their plant life, the latter for its splendid colony of White Rock Rose which is more typically known as a Mediterranean species and is here at its most northerly point of distribution. The beach between Brean Down to Burnham-on-Sea stretches for six miles and is noted for its millions of shells and its role as winter quarters for waders, including 6000 dunlin. Shelduck are also seen and since its first arrival in the 1970s the little egret is now a regular sighting.

From there Nigel took us further round Bridgwater Bay to the Steart Peninsula, a saltmarsh haven for waders. Flocks of up to 200 avocets have been seen near Burnham-on-Sea and the first breeding pair in Somerset have nested there. On past Hinkley Point we come to Kilve Beach which is noted for its fossils, but was chiefly of interest to Nigel because of its many living species. When the tide goes out numerous rock pools are exposed which support a great variety of wildlife. Here about 120 different species of seaweeds flourish. By the time Porlock Weir is reached the nature of the coast is changing with the water of the estuary, becoming more saline and inhabited by a different species of crab from that found higher up the river. Also the underlying geology is now tending towards the Devonian and at the Somerset/Devon border in a secluded boulder strewn beach the change in geology is clearly visible in the rocky cliffs. Here a small colony of
fulmars is known the breed.

The waters of the estuary have just as much of interest as the land along the coastline, though it is of course less immediately obvious. Larger creatures are rarely seen, but occasionally tie remains of dead ones are found. An unfortunate seal was sucked into a water intake at Hinkley Point and a 50 foot fin whale was washed up off Lynmouth. A dolphin has also been found. In the hope of discovering more about the coastal environment as a whole, Nigel is enlisting the help of local fishermen and also recruiting a band of volunteers to help him in his survey work.They have a number of puzzles to which they are seeking solutions. For example it is known that a lot of fishing is carried out with nets suspended from stakes n the inter-tidal zone. Often these are found abandoned and Nigel is curious to know who put them there.

inevitably a lot of debris is washed up on the beaches but little is known about where it comes from. Although the suspicion is that it is dropped at sea he hopes that a systematic analysis will reveal more about its origins and perhaps lead to a more effective plan to control it. Gannet from the Pembrokeshire islands are known to feed off the Somerset Coast but it is not known what they feed on. An understanding of this could make a major contribution to the conservation
of this species.

This is the year of Marine Awareness and Nigel is keen to see as many people as possible getting involved in the activities he is planning. More information is available on the Somerset Wildlife Trust website, including some fine photos by Nigel. you can also order a copy of his colourful new book there.

Somerset's Coast-a Living landscape, 2011 by Nigel Phillips, a living landscape. Natural Time Out Publications.

For more information follow the link below.

Peter Johnson

Common Brittle Star.