SCA 3 – Loughor Estuary

Summary description 

The Loughor Estuary runs from Pontarddulais to the coast widening into the Burry Inlet and then Carmarthen Bay. It is large and open with a relatively narrow tidal channel and large areas of sand banks and mudflats which are covered at high tide. There is a contrast between the north and south coasts. The north is urban, dominated by industry, new housing and leisure development and the Millennium Coastal Park. The larger buildings are apparent in long views from the south. The south is predominantly rural and tranquil and has the most extensive grazed salt marsh in Wales, backed by steep, partly wooded slopes. The south is part of Gower AONB and Heritage Coast. The tidal waters are rich in wildlife, particularly wildfowl, and is known for cockle and mussel beds. Small leisure craft and commercial boats use Burry Port but use is limited by tides and the silting of the dredged channel. Culturally, the most famous event is Amelia Earhart landing here in 1928 on the first solo female flight across the Atlantic.

Key characteristics

  • The Loughor Estuary is a large sandy tidal estuary/ria defined by faults in the bedrock which run north-south in the upper reaches and east-west as the river becomes the Burry Inlet and meets Carmarthen Bay.
  • The restless tidal waters with a large tidal range, sandbanks and mudflats act as strong unifying features.
  • The estuary provides a plethora of habitats with important feeding grounds and resting areas for birds. Designations include Burry Inlet RAMSAR site and SPA, Carmarthen Bay SPA and Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries SAC. These overlay SSSI designations.
  • The northern stretch of tidal river winds along a flat valley floor in a landscape of rural undulating character.
  • The northern coast of the estuary is flat with an engineered edge, industry and urban settlements. Llanelli with its harbour and docks was associated with the export of coal and steel and was named ‘Tinopolis’. Industry has faded and much of the north coast is reclaimed land with the Millennium Coastal Park and Wildlife Centre, new housing and coastal railway.
  • The southern coast is rural with very limited coastal settlement apart from Pen-clawdd and Crofty and is defined by the most extensive unbroken salt marshes in Wales.
  • Hills rise behind the flat estuary sides to the north around Burry Port and to the south directly behind the marshes, creating a strong, distinctive edge. This is relatively unspoilt to the south.
  • Navigation is difficult in the area with the tidal channels and access is limited to a few hours around high tide.
  • There is still hand gathering of cockles in many patches in the estuary to the north and south, processed in Pen-clawdd.
  • Burry Port harbour is still in use, now as a large marina accessed by a dredged channel which is prone to silting up. Leisure and small commercial fishing vessels use the harbour.
  • The grazed salt marshes to the south are highly distinctive, atmospheric and tranquil, backed by the partially wooded steep slopes of the north Gower.
  • There is a strong sense of openness and an emphasis on the horizontal/flat plane and marshes with virtually no structures interrupting the expansive sweep of the estuary.
  • There is a sense of wildness and remoteness on the southern coast, separated from the urban areas around Llanelli to the north.
  • There are wide long views up and down the estuary, with the sunlight most often on the north coast and the Gower peninsula hills in silhouette or shadow.
  • Positive landmarks include Weobley Castle to the south.
  • The southern coast as far as Crofty is part of Gower AONB and Heritage Coast.

Forces for change

These can be divided into:

  • Natural processes
  • Visitor pressure
  • Marine use- commercial and leisure fishing
  • Offshore energy or minerals
  • Development pressure
  • Land management changes
  • MOD use

Initial thoughts are:

The natural forces for change are the estuaries which are currently sediment sinks with changing patterns of sand and mud, dunes vulnerable to storm damage and low lying marsh vulnerable to flooding.

Sea level rise will greatly affect this area. The SMP long-term objectives are to hold the line on the northern coast to protect the large settlements, industrial assets and railway line with some managed realignment just west of the Loughor Bridge. The coast around Crofty and Penclawdd is also recommended for ongoing protection. Elsewhere the objective is to enable the natural evolution of the estuaries where the coast is adjacent to agricultural land and semi-natural areas.

Other forces for change include:

  • Potential expansion of industry or intensive leisure uses on the north coast which can be visually intrusive and reduce tranquillity.
  • Mussel and cockle harvesting putting pressure on the resource.
  • Motor-based sea uses reducing tranquillity.