Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cockles and Mussels – Hollywood in Wales

Back in the late 50s, when our family had 1 of the only 2 caravans in Borth, I remember vividly the nightmare of getting lost at Ynyslas. Chasing my brother across the dunes I missed a turn and ended up the sticky end of the estuary before a stranger stopped and drove me back to the most worried looking parents on the sands.

I remember too the cockles, raking a bucketful out of the sand. I think we added flour to the water in the bucket to flush out the sand from the cockles but they always seemed a bit gritty to me.  Those days when the sun seemed to shine forever and the sea was never cold.

It has been a treat for me to return and make a film with members of CCW about Ynyslas Spit, one of a series of films that try to explain the current ‘ecosystem’ buzzword, through examples of what they are, how they work and the benefits we derive from them. The film can be viewed on the Natur Cymru YouTube channel.  Much has changed but the essence is still there. 

Mussels have always been a gourmet item to me, their modest price out of all proportion to their magnificent taste – the sight of a steaming bowl of moules marinières sends me into ecstasy. I have harvested a few saucepans’ worth from Borth y Gest rocks, at low tide, and always wondered how they were harvested commercially.

Another filming assignment explained the mareculture of mussel farming in the Menai Strait. I was staggered to learn that 50% of British farmed production comes from this tiny bit of sea bed, so perfectly fit for purpose with masses of nutrient rich water washed through the strait each tide. Furthermore, Ynys Môn provides natural storm protection to prevent the mussels being smashed or washed away and also makes it possible for dredgers to venture out whatever the weather.

James Wilson, of Deep Dock Ltd, welcomed me on board the 43m long Mare Gratia mussel dredger and explained the process.

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