SCA 6 – Oxwich and Port Eynon Bays

Summary description 

The SCA forms the central core of the Gower peninsula coastline with two south east facing bays bounded and sheltered by more exposed limestone headlands and cliffs with rocky foreshores. The seabed is gently shelving and sandy and the beaches are backed by dunes and burrows and, in Oxwich’s case, also by marshland. The beaches are very popular destinations for visitors with a variety of beach activities. Oxwich is the largest and most popular, closely followed by Port Eynon. Three Cliffs Bay is less accessible but rewards the visitor with one of the iconic views of the Gower peninsula.

Key characteristics

  • South east facing bays bounded, and separated, by Carboniferous limestone headlands, cliffs and rocky foreshore.
  • Very shallow sandy seabed coarsening to sandy gravel out to sea.
  • The beaches are backed by dunes, which are very extensive and varied in the case of Three Cliffs Bay, and there is marsh behind Oxwich Bay.
  • Wave energy is low in Oxwich Bay but high energy on the rocky coasts and headlands which are exposed to the wind, waves and tidal currents.
  • Around Pwll-du Head intertidal wavecut platforms support honeycomb worm reef.
  • Port Eynon Bay is part of Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries SAC. The headlands and associated coast are part of the Limestone Coast of South West Wales SAC. Oxwich is a National Nature Reserve and most of the rest is SSSIs.
  • Historically, the area has been used in trade particularly from Port Eynon which once had a small harbour, quarries and salt production.
  • The coast exhibits historic defensive features such as promontory forts and Oxwich Castle which add drama to the coastal views.
  • Wrecks in the bays include those from two World Wars.
  • The open semi-natural hinterland backcloth of the undeveloped eastern part of Cefn Bryn contains part of the coast, especially around Oxwich, and forms part of Gower Landscape of Outstanding Historic Interest.
  • Small boats use the area for fishing and cruising round the coast and Oxwich Bay is used to launch wildlife boat trips.
  • The beaches are very most popular, especially Oxwich, and support a range of beach related activities as well as windsurfing and kite boarding.
  • Development is limited and low key around Three Cliffs Bay which is relatively unspoilt with semi-natural vegetation. Settlement at Oxwich is largely contained by the landform and trees to the west with a simple unspoilt beach hinterland. Development at Port Eynon to the west and Southgate to the east is more prominent within the bay and on the clifftops respectively.
  • There are superb views across the bays and out to sea, in particular at Three Cliffs Bay where the isolated cliffs wrapped around by the beach and watercourse of Pennard Pill form an iconic feature of the Gower peninsula.
  • Caravan parks and housing at Southgate detract from the area’s natural character.
  • The area 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 area is sensitive to sea level rise and increasing severity of weather.

The SMP long-term objective for the main beaches and dunes are to manage the realignment of the coast to enable the dune systems to respond and evolve naturally through long-term habitat management activities. At Port Eynon the realignment of the existing car park may need to be considered. A limited number of residential and non-residential may need to be protected. The objective for intervening rocky coasts is of no active intervention, to allow the coast to evolve and retreat naturally. Port Eynon and Oxwich Bay currently have some privately funded coastal defences.

Other forces for change include:

  • Pressure of visitors on Oxwich and Port Eynon beaches and hinterland.
  • Erosion of the Wales Coast Path around these honeypots.
  • Potential expansion of leisure facilities such as caravan parks in the bays and housing along cliff tops which can be visually intrusive and reduce tranquillity.