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Aberavon beach and swansea bay Coastal Habitats NPT

Coastal Habitats

Sand dunes, saltmarsh, estuary, intertidal sand and mud, man-made structures

The State of Nature in Coastal Habitats in Neath Port Talbot

The coastal strip of NPT between Crymlyn Burrows and Morfa Dunes once supported a well-connected, biodiverse ecosystem with sand dunes, dune slacks and coastal fen. However, it has suffered huge losses in species-rich habitats in the last 100 years mainly as a result of industrial development. Unfortunately, much of what remains is also in a perilous position with an uncertain future, still threatened by development. Consequently, the unique wildlife communities and the dynamic mobile sand dune structures which have managed to survive remain vulnerable. Recent downward trends in the movements of wintering Sanderling (and other waders) on Crymlyn Burrows are also of concern.

 

Several factors have contributed to changes in the biodiversity and resilience of coastal ecosystems in NPT: (i) lack of recognition in the past of the importance of sites such as Crymlyn Burrows and Baglan Dunes, (ii) lack of proper management of habitats containing species of high conservation value and (iii) no regulation of recreational activities in sensitive areas such as wader roosting sites in intertidal zones. In addition, there are a number of invasive non-native species that are established on Crymlyn Burrows, the most significant of which are Japanese Rose, Sea Buckthorn, a number of Cotoneaster species, Canadian Golden Rod, Michaelmas Daisy and Holm Oak. In view of all this the state of nature and resilience of coastal ecosystems in Neath Port Talbot has been assessed as poor.

OVERVIEW

Coastal ecosystems provide habitats for a third of NPT’s priority species and they represent one of the most important resources of biodiversity in the county. Important features include the partially fixed mobile dune systems on Crymlyn Burrows, Baglan and Morfa dunes. Species found here, such as Frosted Orache, Prickly Saltwort, Sea Stock, Sea Holly, Sea Bindweed, Sea Spurge and Ray’s Knotgrass depend on the availability of mobile sand environments and are restricted to these habitats. Also notable is a small population of Dotted Sedge, a rare and declining species, which occurs on Baglan Dunes in its only known site in Glamorgan. Unfortunately, Alder and Willow encroachment is currently threatening this population.

 

Dune slacks contribute a large amount to the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems and were widespread in NPT’s dune systems at the end of the 19th Century. Even 40 years ago they were a significant feature of Crymlyn Burrows and Baglan Dunes. At this time Fen Orchid, Early Marsh-orchid, Marsh Helleborine and Adder’s Tongue were seen regularly on Crymlyn Burrows. However, species-rich dune slacks have all but disappeared in NPT, largely as a result of successional changes and neglect, and most of these species have become extremely rare in the county. A small area of dune slack with a large population of Marsh Helleborine survives on Baglan Dunes but it is also threatened by willow scrub succession.

 

Until recently, intertidal areas on Crymlyn Burrows have provided a feeding and roosting site for nationally important numbers of wintering Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Unfortunately, the increasing use of these beaches for dog walking is now influencing the movements and behaviour of these birds and they appear to have deserted their favoured roosting sites.

 

Several notable insects are found in coastal habitats in NPT including a number of butterflies such as Grayling, Wall Brown, Dingy Skipper, Dark Green Fritillary, Small Blue and Brown Argus. Other significant species include Shrill Carder-bee, Long-horned Bee and Black Oil-beetle. The strandline beetle, Nebria complanata was recorded regularly on Crymlyn Burrows in the past but has not been seen there recently.

Salt marshes are a valuable component of coastal biodiversity. In NPT, this habitat is only extensive in the vicinity of the River Neath estuary where diverse communities containing Sea Wormwood, Sea Heath, Sea Lavender and Golden Samphire are found. The long tidal reach of the River Neath is also responsible for a substantial area of sea washed saltings between Neath town and Baglan Bay. During the highest tides, the large grazing marsh that occurs between Neath and Aberdulais is inundated with brackish water which influences the diversity and composition of this impressive and unique habitat.

Coastal Habitats NPT (c) NPTC / NPT LNP
Aberavon beach and swansea bay RR.png

Actions for the recovery of
Coastal Habitats in NPT

Responsibility for these actions lie with all of us and as such, we have not sought to assign actions to particular organisations or groups. Instead, it is our hope that this document will provide the guidance and inspiration for anybody, or any group or organisation, to undertake the actions that are within their capability to deliver. The Secretariat of NPT LNP (NPT Council) are providing a facilitation role to support, collate and monitor work towards these actions. If you would like to discuss your potential involvement in delivery of these actions, please get in touch with biodiversity@npt.gov.uk.

Sanderling Calidris alba Pibydd y tywod Coastal Habitats NPT LNP
Matthiola sinuata 4e Crymlyn Burrows Sea Stock (c) Charles Hipkin NPT Coastal Habitats
Small blue Cupido minimus © Laura Palmer NPT LNP Nature

SANDERLING

Sanderling are small wading birds that breed in coastal tundra in the High Arctic. In winter they migrate southwards and significant numbers of them spend the winter in Britain, particularly where there are coastal beaches with long sandy shore lines. They rely on the availability of coastlines where they roost and feed on crustaceans, molluscs and marine worms. Recently, wintering numbers of sanderling have declined in the UK where this species is now amber-listed. Nationally important numbers have occurred in Swansea Bay between late summer and spring and they have been a notable feature of undisturbed sections of Crymlyn Burrows until recently. Unfortunately uncontrolled and sustained disturbance of winter populations are having a catastrophic effect on roosting and feeding flocks in NPT.

SEA STOCK

Sea Stock is one of a small number of Mediterranean plants that are found in Wales and has been known from coastal sand dunes in NPT for about 150 years. It is a nationally rare, Section 7 species and a European endemic that is growing at its global northern limit in the coastal sand dunes of NPT. It is found in mobile sand communities and is restricted to and specifically requires this specialised habitat in our area. For reasons that are not understood properly, population sizes of this attractive plant have varied greatly over the decades. Burial in sand after storm events and grazing by rabbits may play a part in this. The enormous population of Sea Stock that occurred on Crymlyn Burrows in the 1980s has dwindled to a handful of individuals in recent years. Larger populations are currently known from the remnant dune systems between Baglan and Morfa Tip.

SMALL BLUE

This is the smallest UK butterfly but can be seen in numbers where it occurs. The upper wing is a dusky colour with a hint of blue and the underwing is a very light brown-blue with obvious black spots, no orange as in the Common Blue. They rely solely on Kidney Vetch for their caterpillar food plant. Small Blues can be found all along the NPT coastal belt and at some inland sites, particularly where there is an abundance of Kidney Vetch.

Coastal Projects in NPT

CASE STUDY

MANAGEMENT OF CRYMLYN BURROWS SSSI

When Swansea University developed its Bay Campus on brownfield land to the east of the city, it also took on responsibility for the neighbouring Crymlyn Burrows SSSI. This is one of the last undeveloped areas of Swansea Bay, designated for its diverse assemblage of sand dune and saltmarsh flora and invertebrates, among them some very rare species, including Fen Orchid, Field Wormwood and Strandline Beetle. Although undeveloped, the site faces numerous issues, not least the presence of invasive species and lack of grazing and historical management. While Japanese Rose is the most widespread and problematic of the invasive species found, there are over 50 non-native plants recorded in the dunes, with Sea Buckthorn, Holm Oak, Cotoneaster, Early Goldenrod, Michaelmas Daisy and Japanese Knotweed all having an impact (and the potential to spread much more widely). Although the site has always been used by local dog walkers, this has increased in recent years, and along with the 2500 students now living on campus, the risk of wildlife disturbance has increased significantly. Rabbits are the only grazing animals on the site and with no management prior to the opening of the campus, scrub and woodland has expanded significantly since designation, especially in the wetter areas. Fen Orchid has been lost to this succession and Strandline Beetles have not been recorded there since 1997.

 

Management has initially focused on controlling invasive species, prioritising those that present the largest potential damage, where early management might prevent a larger future problem. Early attempts to hand dig Japanese Rose were unsuccessful, taking a lot of effort but with limited results – rhizomes can spread over a metre from the parent plant, and a small section left behind will regrow. Small (<2m), isolated patches of rose are now prioritised for spraying before they get too large, while larger areas are being dug and buried in situ using an excavator. This not only reduces the amount of Japanese Rose, but also creates valuable areas of bare sand for colonisation by dune wildlife. Regrowth is searched for and dug out by hand.

 

As well as removing invasive species, attempts have been made to reduce the spread of native woodland and scrub into the dune grassland, with volunteers cutting back young birch, willow, alder and gorse along the woodland edge, although at a relatively small scale. In 2020 this was greatly expanded thanks to the help of the National Heritage Lottery Fund Dynamic Dunescapes project, clearing 0.5ha of woodland in wet dune slacks where fen orchid was last found. Trees were removed (and chipped for biomass) before the accumulated soil and leaf litter was scraped off, removing stumps and creating bare sand that flooded seasonally. A further new slack is planned in an area currently covered by Japanese Rose and if successful, it is hoped that Fen Orchid can be reintroduced. Wardening and awareness raising (through walks, events and signage) are helping to reduce disturbance, and a zoning scheme for access with dogs is planned. The location and aspect of the beach means that large quantities of rubbish collect along the 1.5km of shore. Beach cleans are carried out regularly and remove over 100kg of waste every month.

 

Thanks are due to all the volunteers from the university and wider community, to the Dynamic Dunescapes project, and to Buglife’s B-Lines project that has helped to pay for the Japanese Rose burial.

Managing Crymlyn Burrows for Nature (c) Ben Sampson
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