The Good & the Bad of the South Gower Coast

Swansea Local Group Walk on South Gower Coast by Robert Davies

Swansea Local Group Walk on South Gower Coast by Robert Davies

Spring has sprung on Gower and in the recent sunny weather our South Gower Coast reserves at Overton & Port Eynon have been stunning with fantastic limestone specialist plants in full bloom. May and June are a great time to get out and see the colourful natural displays of squill, thrift, rockrose, birdsfoot trefoil, ivy-leaved stone crop and such like along with the tall bright cowslips and the eye catching early purple orchids. Its also a great time to observe bird activity with peregrine seen exploring nesting sites, stonechat sitting in the tops of gorse bushes and chough paired up and feeding where the turf is close cropped. It’s not all big views, suntans, birds and flowers for the WTSWW staff & volunteer team managing these reserves though. With the increased visitor numbers (it is estimated there is over 15000 visitors to Overton Mere each year), brought about by the beautiful spring conditions there have been a number of challenges this spring that have demanded our time and attention.

Back in December 2017 we were celebrating the reintroduction of grazing animals for the first time in about 35 years to Overton Mere where it is expected grazing with ponies and cattle will bring huge benefits to the limestone grassland and coastal heath habitats. The project was considered completed once the livestock were turned out but the work has not stopped since. Intelligent animals soon find a way of showing you the weak points in your plans, things you didn’t manage to foresee. We have had to retrofit auto-latches &springs on all the gates to ensure they close behind walkers who don’t close the gates behind them.  We have had to reinforce fences where the ponies learnt they could push and work the wire loose then by getting down on their knees they would step through the wire and head off on an adventure towards Port Eynon. Escapee ponies certainly increased the stress and work-load for the local volunteers who check the livestock daily. We also had to extend and install new fencing to keep livestock and walkers from meeting head-to-head on the more enclosed entrance track from the village of Overton which is popular with both locals and visitors alike.

A task which is continual but which has seen increased activity by locals, (including a local primary school), volunteers and staff recently has been beach cleaning and working along the rocky foreshore removing plastics and fishing debris stopping them returning to the marine environment during higher tides. Thankfully litter is not a big issue on the paths through the reserves although we do have to carry out litter picks and the unpleasant job of collecting discarded used dog poo bags; these are particularly dangerous to livestock which are attracted to the high cereal content found in dog faeces. One of our volunteers found a bag which had passed through a pony’s digestive system.

Normally we remove bagged collected marine plastic debris from site as soon as we can but earlier in spring the ground conditions were too wet to haul it out. Unfortunately, on the first dry weekend there were several apparent arson attempts which failed on gorse at Overton Cliff and Longhole Cliff; it appears when the cliff did not catch the arsonists decided to burn the skip load of plastics that was awaiting extraction leaving a slick of molten plastic and contaminated soil above the beach at Overton Mere. Donning respirators and PPE we cleared this up.

The arson has continued with us responding to reports of suspicious activity but unfortunately the dry late-spring conditions have led to two big fires being set. About half of the vegetation between the eastern boundary and the slade which drops down to Boiler Slab has been scorched including through some of the most important areas of coastal heath. We have been working to come up with plans to make this situation better, to bring benefits to the habitats which we will deliver in coming weeks. We are also working on long term plans to get the grazing right on this reserve to prevent a large-scale burn again. We have also spent time exploring a future project to introduce grazing to Overton Cliff, another site where gorse is threatening important plant species and fire risk is high.

Working the South Gower Coast is not all sunshine and flowers but the long-term benefits to these high profile, internationally important, highly designated sites is well worth the effort. WTSWW are very grateful to the players of Peoples Postcode Lottery for the funding which enables us to carry out this work now and into the future.