|Morfa Madryn by John Ratcliffe|
It quickly became evident that a wide range of coastal habitats were impacted by the storms, especially beaches, sand dunes, vegetated shingle and to a lesser extent saltmarsh and soft cliff. In a conservation context they included habitats of principal importance for conservation in Wales (under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006). Huge amounts of sand were removed or moved around on our beaches, shingle ridges were driven inshore, and dunes, saltmarsh and cliff were eroded. However, our findings suggest that coastal grazing marsh in Wales was not seriously inundated, with only three reports submitted. This contrasts with the experience in England where extensive areas were submerged in the tidal surge event of 5th and 6th December 2013.
|Sea Cucumber at Dinas Dinlle by D Bryn Jones|
Nationally and internationally important conservation sites and their features have been affected. Records to date have identified change at 37 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 10 Special Areas of Conservation.
A quarter of Wales’s nationally important geodiversity sites include sections of coast. Features include active processes, static landforms and stratigraphical or fossil interest exposed in coastal cliffs. The recent storms have led to large scale changes to the morphology of the coastline in some areas, and have also cleaned or ‘freshened’ many of the coastal cliffs through the removal of debris and vegetation. These fresh exposures, and new archaeological discoveries such as ancient submerged forest and peat cuttings, will require longer term scientific recording and monitoring.
|Borth exposed forest by Ian Medcalf|
The true extent of the wildlife impact will become apparent when surveys are carried out later in the year. Dormant animals may have been drowned in their hibernation sites, while amphibians could be extremely vulnerable to physiological shock from seawater. In particular, NRW staff have concerns about some rare coastal invertebrate species.
|Dead Palmate Newts at Rhosneigr by Rachel Stroud|
It is predicted that extreme weather events will become more frequent in future. We need to appreciate the degree of change which can occur during these events, both for people and their environment. In particular, the significant morphological change highlights the importance of ongoing coastal monitoring to inform management of not just built assets but also our natural biodiversity and geodiversity resources.
We are very grateful to all the Natural Resources Wales staff and our partner organisations who contributed to this environmental audit. Catherine Duigan, Nicola Rimington, Paul Brazier and Raymond Roberts, Natural Resources Wales. (This article appeared in edition 50 of Natur Cymru but there was not enough space for the photos.)
|At Pembrey by Anne Bunker|
|Litter at Dwyfor by Paul Brazier|
|Starfish by Rhodri Dafydd|
|A Pearlside Maurolicus muelleri by Rowland Sharp. |
Only the second record in Wales?
|Glamorgan heritage coast - fall at Summerhouse Point by Paul Dunn|
|Aberystwyth by Paul Brazier|
|Peat cuttings at Fairbourne by Dave Thorpe|