The saltpans at Crosscanonby

Saltpans and Roman Milefortlet 21 (Photo: Andrew Lysser)

The tides and currents have sorted the sizes and colours of the shingle, and here on the upper shore near Crosscanonby I am walking over shapes that are large – and predominantly red: lumps and discs of the New Red Sandstone characteristic of the St Bees’ formation to the South-West, but also bricks; bricks of all ages, some broken and faded, some still sharp-edged and clearly stamped with their place of origin along the Cumbrian coast. Here too are slim black ovoids of sea-smoothed coal, and speckled white pebbles of granite that originated in the hard rock on the far side of the Firth. Between this shingle-band and the sea the bitter wind is de-focussing the shore with sweeping sheets of sand, and the distant figures of two sea-anglers are blurry as they leave the turning tide and walk companionably across the dark, scattered pebbles of the glacial scaurs, their long rods wavering above their heads like antennae.

To my left the land at the top of the shore rises abruptly to form a low and undistinguished hill – yet Swarthy Hill was enough of a rise for the Romans to use it as vantage point from which to keep an eye on the coast and sea, and to build one of their Milefortlets, Number 21. Head down, eyes streaming, I take my bearings from the hill and the wall of stone-filled gabions that protects the coast below it, and I fight the wind, working my way in a transect down the shore, looking for remains of the seaward works of the salt-pans.

Several years ago I took a flight along this coast in a gyroplane so as to get an aerial view and a better understanding of the inter-relationships of places and structures and the sea. Swarthy Hill and these Crosscanonby Saltpans were our turning point before we headed northwards back to Carlisle, and it was possible to pick out the land-based structures – the main pan, a rough outline of the brine pit and the rough darkly-vegetated ash-heap.

The Saltpans, the property of the Lamplugh family, were constructed in 1634 and were worked until the late 18th century. The works are (or perhaps more accurately were – see below) reckoned to be the best-preserved direct-boiling saltworks in England. A diagram from More Plain People [1] shows outlines of the original saltworks: two circular pits (pans), the remains of a boiling house, an ash heap and, across the road, a row of stables and cottages at the base of Swarthy Hill. In the early 20th century, there was also a caravan site and a small collection of holiday huts but as the Firth nibbled away at its edges, so the caravan site had to be abandoned and the final hut “fell into the sea in 1966”. Continuing erosion and storm-damage, and the construction of a cycle-path, have obliterated even the memory of the dwellings.

From ‘More Plain People’ [2]

There are much older, medieval saltworks developed by the Cistercian monks of Holme Cultram Abbey on the Upper Solway’s saltmarshes, and there are traces of other 18th century works along the coasts [2]. Salt was necessary for preserving meat and fish – non-local salt was used in the Allonby herring fishing industry until even the mid-20th century [2]. Importantly, salt was also a valuable commodity to be traded.

As with any industry it had its own lexicon: sleech (salty sand), kinch (the pit where the sand or salt water was collected); ‘badgers’ – the licensed traders of salt; and place names like Salta and Saltcoates.

At Crosscanonby, though, it seems the salt was obtained by ‘direct boiling’ of seawater – in other words, seawater was pumped up to the works and heated. It’s thought that seawater was pumped to the lower, brine pool for storage and to allow some of the sediment to settle; then pumped into the bigger pan (sometimes referred to as the kinch) and from there into the boiling-house. Here it was collected into large iron pans which (according the the author of the Salt Makers chapter in More Plain People), “probably measured 9ft by 8ft and 6 to 8 inches deep”. The water was then slowly heated and evaporated to concentrate the salt as crystals, and these were collected into wicker baskets or boxes to drain before being transported and sold. The energy – for the pumps and the heating of the pans – was provided by coal, probably from the nearby Dearham coalmine. John Martin [3] notes “There is a large heap of ash showing that only the poorest quality of coal must have been used as it contains such a large amount of fused material and burnt slate.”

Over the years the tides have partly-hidden, then re-exposed and pummelled the wooden structures on the shore so that unpicking their stories has not been simple. On this day of battering wind, I reach the square box-like structure that pokes up about 50 metres down-shore from the gabions. The remaining timbers are still solid, the sides of the box buttressed by diagonals buried in the sand. I feel the sodden wood, which has been part of the saltpans’ history for more than two hundred years.

What was its function? For a long time it was thought the structure formed the base of a tower: water was pumped up to the top of the tower and then fed by gravity through pipes to the brine pit at the top of the shore. The model in the exhibition room at Holme Cultram Abbey shows just such a process.

Model of saltmaking at Holme Cultram Abbey

But more recently, Andrew Fielding has re-investigated the archaeological remains and, talking in a Coastal Conversations seminar [4], thinks that the ‘box’ structure was nothing to do with a tower, but was actually something like an inspection hatch through which ran a pipe. On opposite sides of the box are semi-circular cut-outs, into which a pipe would have neatly fitted.

Possible ‘Inspection hatch’: note semi-circular cut-outs for pipe (photo taken March 23rd 2021: Ann Lingard)

In October 2019 Fielding was fortunate to find part of a wooden pipe on the shore, in line with the hatch and the brine pit, and he suggests that water was brought in at shore-level and then pumped up to the works. Further down the shore, there are still sections of four posts sticking up from the sand, and perhaps these marked the original water-intake or another hatch.

I found the hatch and I found the posts; kneeling down in the wet sand I could see that the posts, the hatch and the brine pit formed a straight line. Circling, (but often distracted by the patterns of the blowing sand and the colours of the shingle), I hunted for traces of the pipe, wanting to see its texture and diameter, and more easily visualise the role it played; but it had gone, either buried again or broken. Later, however, when sorting through my related photos, I noticed a thin dark line on the shore between the hatch and the pans (circled in blue on the photo on the right): surely part of the pipe, caught in an aerial view in 2015. Unknowingly, I had seen it – an opportunity missed.

And then, returning to the shore a month later – I found the pipe! It had been partly uncovered again and at first looked merely like a balk of timber, but I scrabbled away the pebbles and sand and found the hollow centre. This tree might have been cut down more than 250 years ago – and then a hole was augured lengthways through the trunk to make a pipe, that would flex and would not rust. This seems like a very special piece of timber.

The wooden pipe

Salt was taxed, and tax requires tax inspectors or specialised Salt Officers. In the churchyard of St John’s at Crosscanonby and placed prominently near the church’s door, is a large lichen-speckled, red sandstone tomb:

“Here lies the body of John Smith of Birkby who was salt oficer at Netherhall and Cross cannonby Pans for 29 years, He was a good Neighbour, faithfull to his Friend and cheerfully relieved y poor. He departed this Life .. day of March ….Anno Dom 1730. Aged 64 years.” 

Around the sides of the tomb are relief depictions of skulls, bones, and cautionary words. Unusually, although it is now fuzzy with moss and eroded edges, there is also an engraving of John Smith in side view, seated at a desk, quill pen in hand: doubtless checking the tax returns for the Lamplughs’ salt manufactory.

For many years, volunteer work-parties for the Solway Coast AONB tidied the Crosscanonby saltworks, strimming and cutting back brambles and rank grasses so that it was still possible to investigate and admire the stone walls of both pans. But storm damage and erosion, cuts in funding and the pandemic have meant that the works are no longer so closely cared for; the overall arrangement is becoming difficult to decipher.

The floor of the larger saltpan, with its walls of cobbles and blocks of sandstone, was lumpy with rich brown molehills on the day I visited. I wonder if the soil there has a high concentration of salt and, if so, do the earthworms taste different?

[1] More Plain People, Holme St Cuthbert History Group, 2007 p92

[2] For more on Solway saltworks see Chapter 8, Sea-food in The Fresh and the Salt. The Story of the Solway (Birlinn Books 2020)

[3] John Martin, Salt, 1988 on the website Industrial History of Cumbria,

[4] Andrew Fielding 2020. Coastal Conversations, Salt production along the Solway Firth, organised by the Solway Firth Partnership and the Solway Coast AONB. The relevant section on Crosscanonby is between 13-17 minutes in the video.

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Ice

In January and February this year, people living at Bowness and along the Upper Solway started posting photos of tidelines – not of drifts of hornwrack, kelp and driftwood, but of ice and snow. As the freezing weather continued, so the ice built up over the shores, and was then lifted off during the high spring tides and stormy seas and re-deposited in piles.

To walk across the frozen shore was thrilling and hazardous – the shapes and the colours a source of wonder; the channels in the mud outlined by glistening white curves; folded and crumpled sheets, stippled with white and grey; uneven piles of opaque white sponge-y floes.

Artist Alison Critchlow [1] was inspired not only by the visual aspects, but also by the ‘crumpy’ (her word) sound of walking over it, and the crackling of shards as the tide pushed them across the shingle. She told me, “I want to draw the sensation and sound of those walks and so I’m trying out new ways of making marks. I thought it would be interesting to replicate the way I was experiencing it … So in the drawings I am thinking about the transparency, the thin plates, their movement floating in on the tide and the sound of walking out across and through it. Also that marvellous bubbling effect that happens sometimes and the wonderful sound of the incoming tide dissolving the frozen tideline.”

For me, the mutability and impermanence of the ice is another expression of the mutability of the Solway’s shores.

Alison, too, finds inspiration in “witnessing a movement held still, a fluid made solid. The colours, fluid/solid shapes and the transparent nature of it are visually fascinating. I also want to draw its fragility. The ice forming and building up is mesmerising, not least because its formation can be seen in every crystal… It is breathtakingly beautiful and it seems to me makes visible a fundamental process in the shaping and reshaping of our planet.” She says, “Drawing this process feels important. Replicating the icy layers, [their] build-up and removal, [using] floating ink, tearing, printing, marbling, dying, spraying, sanding, adding, drawing over and under, I have even painted onto bits of ice and let them thaw onto the paper.”

There have, of course, been periods of intense cold before. On Boxing Day 2010 surprisingly thick floes lay tumbled along the tideline. I wish now that I’d paid more attention to the size, structure and longevity of those floes; and that I’d been more curious as to their origin in relation to the Solway’s margins. So often, it requires hindsight to raise the important questions: the answers might have told me more about the origin of the disaster in 1881.

In January 1881 water froze along the shores and rivers, and when the next high spring tides arrived, the sheets of ice lifted off and pushed westwards by the ebb; cracking and breaking into floes, some reportedly six feet thick, many of which were swirled against the cast-iron pillars of the railway viaduct that crossed the Solway between Bowness and Annan. The damage was immense, and the events of those several days – the sights and sounds – are described elsewhere [3]. A presumed victim was the ‘Hare in a fix’– a hare which was trapped on a floe that was being swept out on the tide (raising interesting questions about the population of hares on the Solway’s margins in the late 19th century, and their intelligence – but perhaps the hare was brighter than we think? See [4]).

As for this year’s floes – where did they form? With travel restrictions and extremely icy roads, it wasn’t possible to tour around to look. Roger Golding’s photos from Bowness show a covering of ice and remnants of snow on the upper intertidal flats: here the thin layer of freshwater run-off from the saltmarsh perhaps combined with spray from the saline waters of the Firth would have formed an ever-thickening layer.

Seawater freezes when its temperature drops to -1.8 degrees Celsius. In an estuary the salt concentration varies with the weather and the state of the tide; the concentration of salts in the sea is normally 35 parts per thousand, but as it mixes with fresh water from rain and the rivers and becks this alters; fresh water, being less dense, can ‘float’ on top of the salt water, depending on the turbulence, and freezes at a higher temperature. But tasting the ice to try to determine its origin wouldn’t help: salts are excluded from the crystalline structure formed by the linking of the water molecules – so the ice would be (almost) suitable for a G&T. At the Poles, excluded salts may form syrupy ‘brine channels’ between the plates of ice, but melted sea-ice does not make a good ‘British’ cup of tea, and Franklin, Scott and other polar explorers relied on freshwater ice from glaciers (or snow).

The Solway’s ice does not have the clear brilliance of a Fox’s glacier mint – it is opaque, and sometimes discoloured with incorporated sediment. There are rough crystals like those in the Slush Puppies that churn sickeningly inside glass cylinders in seaside cafés; there are solid white layers, and weak bubbled strata. The more I look at it and consider it, so I realise the greater is my ignorance: the formation of these ice-floes and thin sheets is a research project in itself: for materials scientists, chemists, rheologists – and poets, artists and writers too.

The growing ice-sheet quite dramatically reduces the area where wading birds can feed, so that they have to fly and forage further afield, burning extra calories in the process: but they are at least homeothermic (endothermic or ‘warm-blooded’) like mammals. The recent pictures from Texas, where turtles stunned by the unusual freezing weather were being brought indoors to warm up, are a reminder that ‘cold-blooded’ animals like amphibia and reptiles are very reliant on the ambient temperature and their own behaviour (such as basking) to survive. This is even more true of the trillions of invertebrate animals that live on and within the shores and saltmarshes, the ‘invertebrates on the edges’ that are part of the complex and inter-connected web of life, of prey and predator [5 and 6]. Some are known to have anti-freeze molecules in their blood, but others are not so fortunate and if unprotected within burrows, or under stones or algae, may well die.

In 1860, naturalist Philip Henry Gosse wrote: “After the intense and protracted frost of February 1855 the shores of South Devon were strewn with dead and dying Anemones … which rolled helplessly on the beach” [7]. There are more recent reports of dying, stranded starfish on the Scottish east coast, paralysed and killed by the freezing weather at the very low Spring tides, and last month piles of burrowing bivalve Molluscs, razorfish mixed with some large clams, were washed up at Mossyard Bay near Gatehouse of Fleet on the Galloway coast, the razorfish shells still glossy, their pale muscular feet and siphons extended in death: cause of death very likely the low sea temperatures, and especially the freezing of the sands and mud during low Spring tides.

(I am very grateful to the Solway Firth Partnership for forwarding these photos, which were taken by Peter Garson, to whom all credit is due.)

In early February I drove towards Bowness, hoping to see the floes on the shore (I missed them, they’d already been shifted by the tide) but the River Wampool – where four months earlier I had watched and heard a tidal bore [8]  – was choked with ice that was moving sluggishly downstream with the river and the outgoing tide; a friend who lives near the mouth of the river at Moricambe Bay reported that the ice had come in from the bay ‘on every tide’.

Out on the Wampool, thin plates of ice were piled against the bridge supports, and raised high along the banks; the scene was eerie, empty of life and sound, as if the moving waters had been silenced by their floating blanket.

Solway ice: painting by Alison Critchlow

My thanks to Alison Critchlow and Roger Golding for their willingness to let me use their photos and for talking about the winter’s ice. I’m especially grateful to Alison for sharing her sketches and paintings – do look at her website.

[1] Alison Critchlow’s website

[2] Roger Golding’s website

[3] The Solway Junction Railway and the Solway viaduct website

[4] What happened to the ‘Hare in a Fix’ ?

[5] Invertebrates on the Edges, Chapter 1 in The Fresh and the Salt (Birlinn Books, 2020); see also the related website

[6] Life in the sand: an essay in The Clearing

[7] PH Gosse (1860) Actinologia Britannica: a history of the British sea-anemones and corals. London, Van Voorst, the Dahlia Wartlet anemone p214;

[8] The Solway tidal bore

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Climbing on the Solway’s sea-cliffs: guest post by Judith Brown and Dog Holden

Godfrey ‘Dog’ Holden and Judith Brown have been friends for years, climbing together extensively during the 1990s and early 2000s. Here they look back on discovering those early delights of climbing on the Solway sea-cliffs in Dumfries & Galloway.

Cliffs above Rascarrel (photo: Ann Lingard)

On a clear, bright day of the kind that does occasionally occur in Cumbria, despite rumours to the contrary, the sea-cliffs of the Scottish Solway coast caught both the sun and the eye of my great pal and climbing partner, Dog Holden, as he made his daily commute to work.

Driving north along the roads of the English side of the Firth, the view across the estuary is particularly fine, the low morning sun often illuminating the cliffs and bathing the hills of the distant hinterland in a soft, hazy light.

“I thought surely the big sea-cliffs I could see across the Solway Firth must be great for climbing,” Dog explained. “But when I asked climbing friends from Cumbria they knew nothing whatsoever about them – and that just whetted my appetite to find out more.”

Back in the 1980s the hills and sea-cliffs of Dumfries and Galloway were not particularly well known within the climbing community, and – in those pre-google days – information was hard to come by. Moreover, despite being so clearly visible from the English side, it was a long drive around to get there, especially before the A35 was ‘improved’.

“On the first exploratory trip, I had to follow my nose as well as the map to find the cliff that had especially impressed me as having good climbing potential. Well, it was certainly quite big and steep, but it mainly consisted of barely consolidated sands. The name of the area is Sandyhills, which I suppose should have been some sort of clue.”

Although disappointing from a climbing point of view, the quiet beauty of the area made a deep impression, inviting future visits and further investigation. This revealed that there were indeed good cliffs for climbing further West of Dumfries, close to Kirkcudbright.

“At an early opportunity we made the trip to Borgue, close to Gatehouse of Fleet and from there to a good although rather busy campsite at Brighouse Bay,” Dog says. “I was with my late wife, Anne, who was not a climber, and our beloved Labrador, Harter, who was a great hill walker, but not built for rock-climbing, so this trip was purely investigative. We had only the sketchiest of information but by following the coastline east we eventually found our way to a complex area of sea-cliffs which clearly offered good climbing potential. These were below the hill named Meikle Ross with fine views over the island of Little Ross and the beautiful seascape to the sweep of the Cumbrian coast. One could even make out the steep headland of St. Bees Head, south of Whitehaven, and the Isle of Man on a clear day.”

In fact it turned out that quite a lot of climbing had been done in the Meikle Ross area. Furthermore there were several areas of coastal cliff further west – as far as Burrow Head on the southern tip of the so-called Isle of Whithorn and up the west coast around Portpatrick.

Reconnaissance done, it was time to tackle the actual climbing. Over a long weekend sometime in the early 1990s, Dog and I, armed with a few vague route details on some bits of paper, embarked upon our first experience of climbing on the Solway sea-cliffs. We chose Meikle Ross, on the coast to the West of Kirkcudbright, as the place to give it our first shot.

Climbing on sea-cliffs has complications and considerations over and above those involved in climbing on inland crags. Many host large colonies of sea-birds during the nesting season and so must not be climbed during the spring and early summer in order to avoid disturbing the birds during this critical period. Some cliffs can only be accessed at low tide, making timing critical.

But the main challenge tends to be actually locating the crag. Unlike an inland crag, sea-cliffs are generally invisible to the approaching climber, except in the unlikely event of arriving by boat. The bases of most sea-cliffs are gained either by a death-defying scramble or, more usually, by means of an abseil. This adds a degree of tension to sea-cliff climbing. Once down, you are committed to making a successful ascent of the route. The only other way back up would be to climb up the abseil rope – assuming you have left it in place and not pulled it down after you to use as your climbing rope. Although such an escape is possible in extremis, it involves both technical skill and a deal of ‘faff’ and is considerably harder than they make it look in the movies.

Limehouse Blues cliff, with rickety fence for an abseil belay (photo: Dog Holden)

To further add to the excitement, the tops of the Solway sea-cliffs tend to consist of very steep grass growing in about an inch of top-soil, devoid of stout, well-rooted trees on which to secure the abseil rope. We were forced to resort to abseiling down the cliffs from a rather rickety fence that served to stop the sheep from straying onto the steep grass. We used an extra rope for this exercise, given the height of the cliff and the distance up the slope to the fence-line. There is a handy mid-height ledge system running across the main cliff, the so-called “Limehouse Blues” area which makes most of the routes accessible even at high tide.

The rock hereabouts and on much of the coast west of Kirkcudbright is a “greywacke” sandstone. This tends to be brittle and so needs careful handling. However, winter storms often clear the cliffs, or at least the lower sections, of loose rock so there are not too many unstable blocks and few rubble-strewn ledges.  (An exception is the crag at Burrow Head which is pretty unstable).

Given the general lack of climbing ‘traffic’ on these crags back then the cliffs carried a generous covering of flora, including a tough short sea-grass and cushions of attractive sea-pinks. On that first day’s climbing I found the thrift flowers made a cheering contrast to the daunting steepness of the rock. For some inexplicable reason, the pull of gravity always feels stronger when climbing above the sea. So, although the actual climbing routes were generally clean of vegetation, I was rather over-sensitive to the occasional feel of brittle, grey-green lichen crumbling beneath my feet. However, I was only the ‘second’, Dog having led the route with his usual calm aplomb. I was climbing with the full security of the rope above me – though with the suspicion that my leader was probably anchored at the top to nothing stronger than a fence-post.

Such minor inconveniences aside, we found the climbing at Meikle Ross to be excellent with some striking and pleasant routes. Lichen notwithstanding, the atmosphere was not as intimidating as so many sea-cliffs are.  Everybody we went on to introduce to the area very much enjoyed the quality of the climbing and the “feel” of the setting.

This first trip began our fairly extensive exploration of the whole of southern Galloway, including the Isle of Whithorn and crags along the west coast. One of the latter, at Laggantulloch Head, south of Portpatrick, is particularly remote and formed of excellent granite, rather than the more typical greywacke. Granite is the predominant rock of the Galloway inland crags, including the dramatically named Dungeon of Buchan in the remote Silver Flow area at the heart of the Galloway Forest Park – spectacular climbing accessible by a very long walk/cycle rather than a short, scary abseil.

Much easier of access, especially from Cumbria is the delightfully situated Clifton Crag, not on the coast but with the sea close by and with excellent views across the Firth.

What was particularly enjoyable about the coastal climbing 20-30 years ago was both the aspect and seclusion. Although possibly busier today, now that there is a good climbing guide to the area, it is doubtful whether it gets too much traffic. This is partly due to its remoteness from the main mountain areas and centres of population but also due to the general seriousness. Sea-cliffs are not climbing walls. Climbing them always carries the frisson of an uncertain outcome, which is the hallmark of true adventure. Like the sea itself, they are mutable, constantly changing. Although this is true of all crags, the pace of change on sea-cliffs is intensified through the working of waves and wind, of salt and sand. For example, although some of the crags now have metal abseil posts in place, those posts themselves corrode quickly in the salt sea air, becoming potentially more dangerous than the rickety fence-posts we used.

Judith Brown at the top of Meikle Ross (photo: Dog Holden)

All aspects of sea-cliff climbing require judgment and self-sufficiency to a high degree. That is part of the satisfaction of climbing on these crags, a satisfaction fully realised by the surroundings. During the climb one is focused on the rock, the lichen, the sea-pinks, maybe glancing up to a sky that is – hopefully – blue and cloud-free; occasionally looking down to check the placement of your feet but letting your eye be caught by the play of light on water and seaweed and on the bands of golden sandstone. You hope that your movements are in tune with the beauty and the solitude.

At the top, climbing turns to a graceless scrabble up the lethally steep grass and it is with some relief that you reach the doubtful security of whatever metal or wooden post your leader is tied to. But then you move to safer ground, among the grazing sheep, where you can relax and enjoy the view of the Cumbrian coastline and the northern fells, looking splendid across the Solway Firth.

Looking across to the Lakeland fells (photo: Ann Lingard)

For more information about climbing in Galloway see the relevant chapter in the Scottish Mountaineering Guidebook “Lowland Outcrops” – the section is written by Stephen Reid of Needlesports in Keswick, who has an unrivalled knowledge of the Galloway hills and crags.

John Biggar also has a good website with many photos and detailed information about the areas described here and many more besides.

There are several free, beautifully-illustrated booklets about the Dumfries and Galloway coast and its rocks and placenames, available as downloads from the Solway Coastwise project.

Judith Brown’s book ‘Happy Climbing Tells No Tales’ (Open Mountain, 2007) was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountaineering Literature in 2007 (copies are still available at Needlesports in Keswick).

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Quick-lime, tubs and ghostly kilns

Quick lime, slaked lime – words for limestone that tell different stories, a remembrance of chemistry lessons. If limestone, CaCO3, is heated carbon dioxide is driven off to leave calcium oxide, CaO – quicklime or burnt lime – a crystalline, alkaline and caustic substance. If water is added the material hisses and spits, giving off heat, as it becomes hydrated to form slaked lime, Ca(OH)2.

From the words for these differing states of lime other tales are derived, of roadstone, mortar and plaster (1), slag from iron-making (2), and fertilising arable fields. And these tales of industry have their beginnings in the digging and blasting of limestone from the earth.

Limestone forms great blocks of geology around the perimeter of the Lake District: to the North-East at Penrith, further South at Shap, and to the West just inland from the coast. It is a Carboniferous rock that has its origins in warm shallow seas, when ‘Britain’ lay far to the South of the equator: single-celled animals, corals, brachiopods and shelled molluscs extracted calcium ions and carbon dioxide from the water and used them to construct their crystalline skeletons of calcium carbonate. When the creatures died, they fell to the sea-floor and over millennia were compressed and lithified. The continents moved and split, land masses rose, volcanoes erupted, and sea-beds were hidden miles deep. But erosion by glaciers and weather exposed them again and now there are limestone massifs halo-ing the Lake District’s mountainous hard rock interior – available for quarrying and (in the case of the precious limestone ‘pavements’ of clints and grikes) for conservation.

Small lime kilns are slotted into hillsides and escarpments like eyes, their brows an arch of brick or stone; single ‘pots’, or double, even triple, side by side, usually arranged so that broken limestone and coal can be fed into the top and, after the burning, quicklime scraped out from the bottom. The quicklime from these small kilns was probably used locally for spreading on arable fields and pastures, to reduce the acidity and improve the productivity of the land. (3, 4)

But there are several majestically large commercial kilns too whose origins were closely linked with not only the West Cumberland coalfields but also the large deposits of haematite or iron ore in the West of the county. Near where I live and well-hidden from public view are the Wardhall – or Warthole – limekilns.

The track runs straight, sloping gently downhill towards the River Ellen. It’s January and the fields are full of chocolate-brown Herdwick hoggs with white legs and faces, brought down from the fell farms to over-winter on the richer lowland pastures. In the way of Herdwicks, three of the young sheep have escaped and are browsing on the brambles along the track; they stare at us and, knowing they are doing wrong, sheepishly sidle back into their field, having remembered exactly where they broke the fence.

The track is firm underfoot and runs for nearly a mile, lined on each side by tall flailed hedges of hawthorn, ash and elder that, even leafless, limit the view. Then suddenly we are out, onto a flat area, glistening with ice and green with moss, that is raised above the river valley like a belvedere. There is an unconvincing rusty-wire fence at the abrupt edge – and a steep vertical drop, a cliff-face of dressed sandstone blocks. Although it’s impossible from here to tell, we’re on top of the kilns and although they are now covered over, we’re standing on the entrances to the pots into which coal and quarried limestone would have been dropped.

We back-track to a thin strip of damp woodland beside the track, and scramble down a bank, through brambles and the stalks and flat dry heads of cow parsley, frost-rimed; clamber down a low brick wall onto what might have been a platform or loading area, and then onto a plain of straggling grass and shallow moss-filled pools overlying rubble and broken brick. Now we’re at the base of the enormous flat front of the bank of kilns. The entrances to the four pots are like half-bottles, each framed in perfectly-cut and aligned sandstone blocks.

The interior walls are dank with green algae and liverworts, part-hidden by ivy. Scrubby, boggy ground and straggling ash trees make reaching the openings difficult – but at the back of each deep arch are small brick-edged openings, supported by rusting metal. In one arch the openings are blocked, one by horizontal rusty iron doors; another by a solid tumble of grey and black stones. These openings are the draw-arches or ‘drawing-eyes’ for the fire-pots, and the doors were used to control the air flow into the kiln; Graham Brooks (5) told me “it was a technical job trying to keep the temperature of the fire in the pot at the right temperature – too low and the limestone didn’t burn, too high and you could get a fused mass depending on the amount of secondary minerals in the limestone.” Limestone and coal would have been layered in from the top, “usually in the ratio of three limestone to one coal.” The quick lime would have been raked out, probably straight onto the waiting railway wagons. In two other arches, spectral effusions of white, streaked, limestone ooze out from the eyes – slow waves of calcium carbonate re-petrified – decorated with the jagged teeth of stalactites. Within the massive stone structure, the hidden pots of the kilns must still contain limestone – through which water has trickled down, dissolving the calcium salts, the concentrated brine seeping out year after year.

When lime-burning first started here isn’t clear, but Graham Brooks, in his research into Cumbrian limekilns (5), states that the Warthole kilns, “were rented out to the Gilcrux colliery company prior to 1852 when they were advertised to be let by Mr Richardson of Dovenby Hall. (The present kilns probably date to after this time.) The Solway Haematite Iron Company, Maryport worked the quarries and kilns in the 1870s.”

In other words, the 19th century limeworks were associated with coal and with iron ore, haematite – so the quicklime would have been used in the production of iron. If haematite is heated to high temperatures, molten iron is liberated – and the added limestone (which is oxidised by the heat to quicklime) or even better, quicklime itself, bonds with the impurities from the fuel (coal) and the ore to form slag, which floats on top of the molten metal (6, 2).

Maryport & Carlisle Railway: from Wikipedia, image by AfterBrunel.

This was also the age of railway building, especially in Cumberland. Between 1840 and 1845, the railway from the coastal town of Maryport to Carlisle in the North was completed – the section from Maryport to the coal-mines at Arkleby (very close to Wardhall) was finished in July 1840 (7). The 25-inch Ordnance Survey map for 1865 (8) clearly shows the M&CR running alongside the River Ellen, with sidings that connect with a fan of four lines from the Warthole Limeworks (where, curiously, only three – not four – pots are shown). Also shown is the track that brought the limestone down from Warthole Quarry to the South-East of Warthole Guards Farm – this was the sloping inclined plane or tramway, down which rope-linked tubs laden with stone would pass, and down which we had walked between the wintry hedges. Gravity ensured the tubs would reach the flat area at the top of the kilns and, as they rumbled down the rails, their weight would pull a train of empty tubs back up to the top; the double line of rails midway as a passing place can be seen on the map, and there would probably also have been a winding-drum with a brake for the rope. Rails fan out to the rock-faces in the quarry, too. The deep quarry is still there, now partly obscured by a tangle of trees and vegetation.

Warthole Limeworks, 25″ OS map
Warthole quarry, 25-inch OS map extract

But by the time the OS map was revised in 1891 (9), the M&CR sidings have been removed; Ward Hall Limeworks are marked as Disused, and the tramway is marked as ‘Old Wagonway’; there are no longer rails for tubs in the ‘Disused’ quarry. Iron and steel production was still centred on Workington, but cheaper iron ore was being imported from Spain and the economics of transport were changing rapidly; the M&CR’s Arkleby station was closed, the Solway Junction Railway (10) would also soon be closed.

Interestingly, the 2007 obituary of Donnie Bewick (11), a former neighbour of ours, notes that “During the war, Donnie drove for Gilcrux hauliers, Johnston Bros, many times leading lime into Scotland from Warthole limeworks, Plumbland.” Presumably he was transporting limestone taken directly from the quarry.

Here, then, is another lost story. There will surely still be local memories, some of which might go back a couple of generations, but at the moment Covid restrictions mean they can’t be accessed… Further details of the stories must wait.

Notes:

Many thanks to my friend and industrial archaeologist Dr Peter Stanier (who also accompanied us to the kilns on our first visit in 2004) for useful discussions and weblinks.

1. ‘What’s a clay dabbin?‘: lime mortar and rendering; these houses are also covered in The Fresh and the Salt, the Story of the Solway, chapter 2, ‘Changeable Depths‘ (more photos on the related website).

2. Workington iron and steel furnaces, and slag; see also The Fresh and the Salt, the Story of the Solway, chapter 2, ‘Changeable Depths’ (more photos on the related website).

3. An index, plus photos, of Cumbrian limekilns by David Kitching.

4. Graham Brooks’ website, Cumbrian limekilns.

5. My thanks to Graham Brooks for his email discussions, and for information about Wardhall kilns

6. British Lime website

7. The Maryport & Carlisle Railway, M&CR

8. National Library of Scotland, OS maps

9. NLS OS maps

10. The construction and destruction of the Solway Junction Railway: Crossing the Moss

11. Obituary, Donnie Bewick 2007

Published 2020 by Birlinn Books

Posted in coal, coastal heritage, industrial heritage, limestone, quarries, Solway Viaduct & Railway | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Quick-lime, tubs and ghostly kilns

‘Cold cases’: land-scape puzzles on the Solway shore

“Mr Cash went to Beckfoot … the submerged forest was not visible and I regret to say the residents he inquired from had not even heard of it”. So wrote Brian Blake in his 1955 book The Solway Firth, which is illustrated by black-and-white photographs taken by J. Allen Cash. Fortunately, Mr Blake himself did find the forest later, and was “delighted with [his] luck” when he walked South from Silloth.

I first went to look for the forest back in 2004, and regularly found the stumps and roots of the ancient trees in roughly the same area of the shore near Beckfoot for many years. But it was not just the trees that made this forest area special: as I wrote back in 2004,

“the patches of black are like shadows along the sharp edges of channels in the sand. Walk down towards them, and the shadows resolve themselves into banks of peat. Poke them with your toe and feel how dense and sodden they are, smoothed by the friction of waves and sand. Walk on them and feel their sponginess. And gradually you will become aware that the dark organic mass is not only peat, but supports here a horizontal tree-trunk, or there a stump that radiates roots. Wander around and you will find trunks and branches, single and entangled, embedded in the peat and sand; and erect stumps, 20-30 cms high, their tops flattened as though cut by a chainsaw. The wood is still fibrous, soft and dark; you can crumble it and tease it apart, as though it were any rotting log in a woodland. But the difference is that this woodland thrived about 8000 years ago.”

The trees had died, their roots waterlogged as by a beaver-dam, their bodies gradually preserved as the sphagnum mosses grew ever upwards in the wet climate of the time, and compressed into acidic, anaerobic peat.

The forest and peat could be seen for more than a decade, but a few years ago during a sequence of winter storms, the peat was thrashed and fragmented by the waves, the wet and fragile wood vanished, and nothing remained visible of the woodland that had stretched across that earlier Solway Plain. But that patch had been just a small area: underneath the new and ever-changing profile of the mid-shore near Beckfoot – where shingle had been swept away, rocky scaurs (relics of glacial deposits) had been exposed, and sand had been piled in sessile waves and tiny ripples – the horizon containing the forest and peat and clay would still be present. It was a comfort to know that this evidence of the formation and changing development of the turbulent Solway Firth was still there – but hidden, from sight and perhaps from memory.

Vanished forest: shingle, sand-waves and a distant rocky scaur

January 2020

So, in January this year, after weeks of strong north-westerly winds and storm surges and Spring tides, I went down to Beckfoot again – wondering, hoping, that the secret of the submerged trees might once more have been revealed. The shore looked so different from the previous autumn that I was failing to find my usual ‘markers’. The cloud was low and the air was grey, and across the Firth Scotland had (very sensibly) taken leave of the Union and was no longer to be seen. A mixed flock of gulls sat and preened near the water, keeping a silent watch on my movements, and I apologised as thirty or more oystercatchers failed to hold their nerve and rose up in a flock, trilling with indignation.

I zig-zagged between the the tidelines, hoping to find ‘treasures’ like goose barnacles attached to flotsam, but the long mounds of tangled wrack and twigs were too tightly woven together by the waves. Dark shapes ahead were merely small boulders and rounded pebbles of a newly-exposed scaur.

Looking up to watch a curlew come gliding over the dunes, its outspread wings motionless as it let itself be carried by the wind towards the distant water, I saw that, higher up the shore towards the battered dune faces, there were smooth dark plates of … something. Not peat, as I had expected, but sheets of heart-stoppingly slippery, grey clay: the same type of clay that in the earlier exposures had lain beneath the peat layer that had preserved the forest. Had the peat been broken up and washed away, or was this one of those places where salt- or fresh-water had temporarily inundated the peat bog? Perhaps there had been a meeting of sea and river water, where the suspended sediment had flocculated and fallen – or perhaps the sea had broken through a barrier and washed out clay that had been deposited at the bottom of a still, small lake?

The clay’s surface was speckled with embedded fragments of wood – and there was a tree-stump with radiating roots; there were some fallen branches or perhaps more roots, half-buried in the clay. And more stumps, sticking up defiantly despite their age.

Intriguingly, the surface of the clay was pock-marked with tiny holes, the entrances to burrows. I broke off a piece and found the burrows had been filled in with yellowish sand.

November 2020

So much has happened – and not happened – during this year. One dramatic event happened on the Allonby shore, a short distance West of Beckfoot, during the high spring tides and storms of November. This wild weather broke open the dunes at Allonby to reveal a band of glistening clay at least one metre thick; the clay’s surface was patterned with bright brown deposits of iron salts, and black fragments of embedded vegetation decorated the smooth horizontal plates. (On a later walk I saw similar torn and decaying fragments of seaweed and twigs decorating the edge of a shallow pool, washed in and then dropped by the leaving tide.)

At the north end of this band of clay, a dark headland of peat jutted onto the shore. It was speckled with sand, and twigs and pieces of small branches were embedded – but these seemed more like collected flotsam rather than the remains of growing trees. A piece of what looked like black paper projected from deep within a broken edge and, picking at it, I was puzzled to find that it was a partly-exposed ‘mermaid’s purse’, the empty egg-case of a thornback ray. Nearby, the surface of one area of peat was coated in a hard crust of red-stained sand.

It’s like a detective story, a very cold case, with a complicated time-line. From the time the glaciers melted, about 10,000 years ago, until the present day, the levels of the sea – the Firth – relative to the land, have changed many times. You can see it most obviously where lines of pebbles sandwiched by layers of sand are exposed in the dunes – these are ‘raised beaches’ that show the different levels of the shore over time.

The height of each incursion doesn’t mark a simple water-line along the shore, for there would have been hollows and sandbanks, that either kept out or trapped the water: along the shore today you cross undulating sand-waves, find your way interrupted by water-filled channels, and discover that the former course of a beck across the shore has been changed by newly-banked shingle. Marine débris sinks in the still water, layering its patterns onto the settled sediment.

Sandwaves

The patterns of newly-exposed clay and peat at Allonby suggest this might have been a soggy area like the lagg fen that circumscribes a bog, where trees find it hard to grow; after the sea-level rose and the fen was inundated, the hollow trapped water-borne detritus; sometimes sand was deposited on top of the peat; a ray’s egg-case was caught in a crack and later buried. Later, when the peat and clay were higher and drier, fresh water seeped down through the peat and onto the clay, carrying red iron salts that accumulated in holes and hollows. And here at Allonby these colourful ferric salts accentuate another puzzle: tubes with hard, ochreous-red walls projecting upwards from the clay.

Tubes and burrows

Peat and clay are not dead and sterile environments – all manner of creatures, from invertebrates to single-celled bacteria and micro-algae – are adapted to make these substrata their homes.

Piddock holes in the peat

Piddocks are extraordinary: these bivalve molluscs (think of them as much fancier relatives of mussels) normally live, protected, inside rock below low-tide level. The animal’s shells are intricately patterned with sharp, toothed ridges and, by extending and retracting its muscular foot, and shoogling its file-like shells, the piddock gradually bores in, living within the burrow, enlarging the diameter – but not the entrance – as it grows, feeding on particulate matter in the sea-water. Burrowing would be laborious, unless the larval piddock finds and colonises a bank of peat that has been uncovered by the sea. Twice I have been excited to find peat that has been riddled with piddock burrows – one time the white shells of the long-dead animals were still trapped inside. That newly-revealed peat contains piddocks and their wide-diameter burrows, shows that this is not the first time it has been uncovered: it must have been exposed to the sea at a subtidal level for at least several years before it was buried again beneath the sand.

And what of the tubes in the clay at Beckfoot, found in January this year? Some were U-shaped, many were infiltrated with sand.

Mudshrimps dig U-shaped tubes of this approximate size; the tubes of mud-dwelling ragworms are more branched. Clay is much denser than the mud where these creatures normally live – but perhaps it was softer and muddier before it was compressed … It’s frustrating not knowing who constructed those shelters, and when.

And finally, to those strange reddish tubes jutting upwards from the Allonby clay: some of them are nearly a centimetre in diameter; their walls are hard, the material filling the cavity difficult to identify. Further along the exposure, though, are narrower tubes, and tubes in longitudinal section, some of them branching, many with traces of red pigment outlining the edges. What creatures constructed these?

But that is the wrong question, the wrong ‘Kingdom’ – the origin is plant not animal. In places filaments stretch between the broken ends of tubes and it’s clear that the burrowers were roots, and the walls of the tubes have formed around them, the clay hardening and taking up the ferric salts. Some are fine and fragile, others stout and thick-walled.

These tubes, then, are much more modern and unconnected with inundation by the sea. At the edge of the eroded face of the dunes, the mat of vegetation that stabilised the surface now teeters, and roots of the grasses and other plants dangle in the air.

Red clay

Having seen this new evidence of the Solway’s geological history, I went back to Beckfoot to see whether more sections of the submerged forest had been uncovered. But the small area of trees and peat that had been revealed in January had vanished – all that remained was the clay; peat and trees had been battered and swept away when the very high spring tides and strong winds had churned the sea into brown, froth-edged breakers.

However, the layer of red clay was still visible further to the North. It occurs at various places between Allonby and Beckfoot, and is coarser and more granular than the grey boulder clay. It would be possible to roll it into a ball, and press a stick through it to make a hole, smoothing the edges with your thumb. You could make a loom-stone or a fishing-weight, similar to those that I and others have found along the shore.

For more about the Solway’s geological past and the ‘dance’ between the land and sea, see The Fresh and the Salt. The Story of the Solway, published by Birlinn Books September 2020, and the related website.

Posted in Allonby, coastal history, dunes, peat, bogs and moors, sea-bed & undersea | Tagged | Comments Off on ‘Cold cases’: land-scape puzzles on the Solway shore

The vanishing keel on Ship’s-keel Scaur

Back in 2015 near Dubmill Point on Allonby Bay I finally found what I’d been searching for: the ‘ship’s keel’ for which Ship’s-Keel Scaur is named. It was hard to believe that I’d failed to find it previously, but there were several similar fruitless hunts on other occasions.

Its timbers were as hard as iron, the keel (if that is what it was – its profile had been much transformed, holed and distorted and overgrown) was home to a variety of marine species, a microcosm of the animals and algae on the shore. Sandy tubes of the honeycomb worm, Sabellaria; mats of barnacles; a few limpets; grazing winkles; predatory dog-whelks, which had laid mats of their orange vase-shaped eggs under overhanging timber; beadlet anemones, Actinia; green Ulva algae. Footprints in the sand showed that wading birds have been sheltering in its shadow.

April 2015 The encrusted chain

Although  6 or 7 metres long, the keel blended into its surroundings on the scaur, providing yet another stable surface against the shifting sands; its encrusted chain bled oxidised iron. The wood is scarred by deep rectangular excisions, which I now realise have been caused by present-day hacksaws. Someone I know who has been responsible for one of these wounds told me that he and his friend had been extracting copper nails. He showed me the wedge-shaped nail, several inches long and tapering at one end.

I went back later in the year on a ‘big tide’ to examine it more closely, and soon had to retreat as the water rose quickly and quietly around it. In less than 15 minutes the keel was invisible beneath the sea.

Steam tug Florence towing barque Gimello into Maryport in a storm, 1883. William Mitchell

Allonby Bay is infamous as a place where ships wrecked on the Solway’s sandbanks – and their contents – have come ashore; it was also the site of a business in ship-breaking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have written about this – and suggestions for the origin of the ‘ship’s-keel’ – in much more detail in my book The Fresh and the Salt, and there are also extra images on the website.

I’ve returned to the wrecked timbers and chain (when I can find them) several times over the past years and I wanted to record here a pictorial time-line of their gradual break-up and disappearance. An unexplained piece of the history of this coast and the Solway Firth goes with them.

April 2018 A traffic cone is trapped beneath one end, put there to mark the wreck?

Almost eighteen months later …

One year later, 2019, and the profile of the shore has dramatically changed as sand has been swept up from further West and deposited over the rocks; Ship’s-Keel Scaur and its glacial origins are barely recognisable.

Another year passes, the ‘Covid year’. When I re-visit in September 2020, sand has shifted yet again, rocks and remnants of the wreck are visible. But the ‘Ship’s-Keel’ is barely a memory of its former self. There is no sign of the chain; the encrusting and sheltering algae and animals have almost vanished from this now inhospitable former home.

Its timber is tough, but it may soon be gone – and eventually no-one will remember the reason for this Scaur’s name.

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Bores on the Solway

The tidal bore on the Solway approached “…  with a hoarse and loud roar, and with a brilliance of phenomena and demonstration, incomparably more sublime than if the wide sandy water were densely scoured with the fleetest and the most gorgeously appointed invading army of horsemen; before the first wave can be descried from the shore, a long cloud or bank of spray is seen, as if whirling on an axis, and evanescently zoned and gemmed with mimic rainbows, and the rich tintings of partial refraction, sweeping onwards with the speed of a strong and steady breeze”. Gazeteer for 1848, p679.

So wrote a possible observer in 1848, seemingly carried away with the eloquence of his prose. Fifty years later, George Nielsen described the tidal bore approaching the River Eden “with great speed”; “the wave is white with tumbling foam; a great curve of broken surf follows in its wake; and the white horses of the Solway ride in to the end of their long gallop from the Irish Sea with a deep and angry roar”. And indeed, there are much earlier accounts of people being swept away and drowned by the bores that rushed up the rivers: in February 1216 followers of the Scottish king Alexander II, laden with spoils from pillaging Holme Cultram Abbey, were crossing the ford on the Eden when the incoming tidal bore overtook and drowned 1,900 men.

Red shows rivers mentioned; blue for Silloth, Moricambe and Torduff Point

The first time that I experienced the Solway bore I was actually out in the Firth just to the West of Bowness – standing chest-deep in the water, in a line of haaf-netters (see chapter 8 in The Fresh and the Salt, and the website for more photos), fishing for salmon. Distant Criffel had been blotted out by the rain that was beating in our faces, but a dark line with a wavering white crest appeared on our seaward side, moving upstream towards us and accompanied by a low roar. There was laughter, and a shout of ‘Whose idea was this, then?’, and we all hastily waded for the shore. It was not a large bore, perhaps only 30 centimetres high, but it seemed animate in its purposefulness, pushing on up the Firth. Behind it, the brown water rose quietly up the mudflat and spilled silently, frothy-edged, into the creeks. After the bore had passed, we carried our nets back into the water and resumed our fishing, shifting positions in the line as the incoming tide rose higher.

The second time I saw a bore was at Grune Point at the edge of Moricambe Bay: it’s only in retrospect that I understand what I saw – I was sitting on the edge of the saltmarsh with artist Lionel Playford, and as he sketched we were chatting about the patterns of stillness and turbulence on the water as the tide slowly rose in front of us. A shallow layer of water had covered the mudflats and was calm and glossy, when what seemed merely a low wave less than 10 centimetres high curved around the point and, itself unshowy but silvery, over-rode the smooth surface. It poppled against the saltmarsh’s edge and carried on past us up into the creek.

There are perhaps a dozen estuaries in Britain where a tidal surge, bore or aegir occurs, and even then they are not easy to predict, but the main requirements are that the incoming tide is funnelled into a narrowing estuary; that a big spring tide is due; and there should not have been much rainfall to swell the outflowing rivers. The Severn bore is the most famous, but others include bores at Arnside on the River Kent by Morecambe Bay, and on the Rivers Eden and Nith that empty into the Solway.

On the weekend of October 17th and 18th, 2020,  spring tides with ranges of about 10 metres were predicted, and rainfall had been (unusually) low for Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway. Alerted by the hashtag #solwaybore, people were already posting photos and videos of various bores on social media: Stuart David captured images of kayakers by Burgh Marsh on the Solway; Paul Crabtree uploaded a video of the bore in the River Eden at the head of the Solway; Kate Parry had been picnicking by the River Wampool, which opens into Moricambe Bay (not at all the same as Morecambe Bay), when she had been surprised by a noisy bore; her phone video was subsequently picked up and shown by the BBC.

On the Sunday I too visited the Wampool and was thrilled to hear and see that bore for myself. The river was low, and a flock of gulls was resting and arguing on a sandbank down-river. Suddenly there was the sound of sighing and shushing, and the gulls flurried up onto the surrounding fields. And then it came – a glinting line of water, rushing inland. It wasn’t a single wave, but a train of several smooth wave-forms chasing the front-runner in orderly fashion. The leader hit the supports of the bridge, and split around them, then its edges swashed and broke noisily along the banks. But all the while the waves kept pace with each other, even as the front poured and rattled over a small shingle bed below the bank.

The leading edge spreads across the shingle

As with that Solway bore, the front pulled the tide behind it so that the water reached up the banks in minutes. Comparing the height against the bridge supports before and after the bore passed, nearly two metres of height had been gained in 10 minutes.nd the current, brown with sediment, raced on upstream, with lumps of tree-trunks and timber swirling on its back (see videos on the website). Brown foam spun in eddies below the bank and the sound now was of rushing, splashing water. How far inland did it travel? I wish I knew where its energy had fizzled out. It would be a fine thing to fly in a gyroplane on a day when a Solway bore was expected, and to watch the Upper Solway fill and spill into the rivers.

I’d naïvely thought that the bores would happen shortly after the tide turned, but this is not the case – and when you look at the map and see the areas that the Upper Solway includes, it begins to make more sense that the bores often occur much later in the tidal cycle, sometimes just before predicted high tide. To confuse predictions even further, the tidal cycle in the Upper Firth is far from cyclical – the ebb takes a disproportionately long period compared with the flow.

At Torduff Point on the Scottish side, for example, there are only 2-3 hours between low and high water – the left-hand side of the curve is very steep; the rest of the nearly six-hour cycle is taken up with the ebb. But at Carsethorn on the mouth of the Nith, and at Silloth on the west side of Grune Point, the six-hour cycle is fairly standard. (Note that the vertical scales are different for the two graphs below; these graphs, and those for other tidal predictions can be found here.)

To imagine the Upper Solway basin filling up evenly, like water in a bath, is wrong: there are the river channels, the sandbanks, the vast disc of Moricambe Bay, the friction created by the shallows and the scaurs, the hollows and channels around Port Carlisle …. I’ve waited at Grune Point during the big spring tide, waited for the tide to flood, knowing the time of low water at Silloth – and slowly, very slowly, a glimmer appears in a distant channel nearer the Scottish side; after two-and-a-half hours the sandy and muddy expanse of Moricambe Bay is still exposed, even though it’s only ‘just around the corner’ from Silloth. Then suddenly, after about three hours, the tide arrives, and rapidly fills the bay, bubbling and hissing at the edges of the sculpted mudflats and the small cliff-edges of the saltmarsh. And still it continues to flood in, until at least an hour-and-a half past Silloth’s high water time.

It is at that late stage that the dammed-up pressure of the tide suddenly overcomes the force of the outgoing fresh water from the rivers – and breaks through. So the bore on the Wampool exploded up-river at about the same time that high water was due at Torduff Point; the bore on the Eden – further to the North-East, also roared up-river at about the same time.

And as that bolus of water pushes up the river it forces the river’s flow to temporarily reverse; the turbulence at the edges sweeps up the sediment; sometimes the bottom of the leading edge is slowed by friction against the river bed so that the peak of the wave topples over into an aerated white crest. The dynamics of every bore, even in the same river, are always different, dependent on the relative flows of fresh and salt, the heights and the weather. It would be so easy to become addicted to looking for bores, to become a ‘bore bore’ …

Here are links to videos and blogs about the bores:

Stuart David on Twitter: the bore at Burgh Marsh, October 2020

Paul Crabtree: the Eden bore, October 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVxOV49RC5w&feature=emb_logo

Caerlaverock wetlands centre, the Nith bore: https://www.caerlaverock.org.uk/bored-of-isolationdifferent-perspectives-on-the-bore/

The Wampool bore: October 2020 https://thefreshandthesalt.co.uk/chapter-eight/

Mirjam Glessmer, The Arnside bore: https://mirjamglessmer.com/2019/07/31/tidal-bore-in-arnside/

Michael Berry, the Severn (and other) bores: https://michaelberryphysics.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/berry478.pdf 

Tide tables for Torduff Point: https://tides.willyweather.co.uk/dg/dumfries-and-galloway/channel-of-river-esk—-torduff-point.html

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Grazing and Growth on Rockcliffe Marsh

At Rockcliffe [Marsh] it’s about the birds, it’s about the saltmarsh as a vegetation community; it’s about the geological interest in the development of saltmarshes. Many other saltmarshes have been enclosed and changed because of agricultural methods, but the Solway marshes haven’t suffered to the same extent.” Bart Donato

Giles Mounsey-Heysham, the owner of Castletown Estate and Rockcliffe Marsh, refers to Bart Donato as the Estate’s “guru from Natural England” (NE), which made Bart laugh when we met in a café near Kendal in August 2017, but it was immediately obvious that he was very enthusiastic about his involvement with Rockcliffe.

He explained, “The Marsh has been part of an agricultural system for a thousand years or so – it’s not wild, it’s not a natural marsh, but a by-product of the agricultural system set on a natual landform. Local farming systems were once dictated by local needs, but over time have become subsumed within agri-business on a global scale – we have to try to buffer the system.”

Giles had asked for his help back in 2004 because “the grazing régime wasn’t working.” The result was that the Marsh was put into the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, with funding for managing the saltmarsh better for birds. The rôle of NE is look at and secure Rockcliffe’s SSSI designation. “We look at the natural heritage, and think what’s the right management to look after that asset,” Bart explained. “We have to look at the flora and fauna and work out what’s best to support them. As for birds, it’s not just the breeding waders but also the wintering populations, the really big flocks of barnacle geese.”

Managing the grazing

“We don’t have the magic grazing system [for the birds],” Bart acknowledged. “We probably never will because the market drives things like the time and the type of grazing stock.” Geese “like a bowling green” but breeding waders prefer rougher vegetation, so the challenge is to balance this, to manage the grass growth to provide a mosaic. “We’re bringing the Marsh back to something more goose-y and breeding-wader-y.”

I imagined the long, muscular tongues of cattle, ripping off the grass, and the crisp snipping by sheep. That year the Marsh was also a temporary home for a herd of gypsy horses, black- and brown-and-white, and Bart said he “was quite excited to see them – they take on the rougher vegetation like tufted hair-grass, they take it down, and they behave very differently from the other stock.”

In the winter, most of the sheep and cattle are taken off. “The Marsh needs to be grazed enough to stop it growing, yet to keep a bit on it until the geese come again,” Bart said. “The winter grazing is problematic because of the marsh’s great size, the creeks and the winter tides.” Ultimately, “The tides are in control – creeks become quagmires, the pens get churned up.”

Total inundation of the Marsh also, as might be expected, has dramatic effects. For many years Mike Carrier was Honorary Warden for Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s involvement with the Marsh, and in his report for the period 2006/2015 for NE and the Trust, he wrote: “Both tides and weather play an extremely important role in the everyday life of Rockcliffe Marsh. Complete tidal inundations of the whole marsh occur perhaps no more than two or three times per year … When they do occur, the effect is to leave parts of the marsh under water for days particularly in the winter when little or no evaporation or natural drying out takes place. Should complete inundations take place during the [bird] breeding season, the effects can be catastrophic.”

Anatomising the Marsh

Bart talked about the need to manage the grassland as a mosaic of ‘bowling green’ and tufts and longer vegetation, to encourage breeding and grazing birds. But the HLS scheme was also about managing Rockcliffe as a saltmarsh, a mosaic of wet ground and creeks and open water amongst the vegetation, “a Swiss-cheese effect of water-bodies and big sheets of water.”

To do this, it was important to understand how the saltmarsh forms and develops. Rockcliffe isn’t only growing outwards, it’s growing upwards too. At the edges, ‘pioneer’ plants like Pulcinellia grass, Salicornia (samphire) and, as at RSPB Campfield further down the coast, the alien grass species Spartina, establish a root-hold. The meshwork of roots stabilises the trapped silt and forms a tiny island. Small changes in water-currents cause more sediment to be deposited and the islands fuse. Sediment accretion raises the level of the new-formed ‘land’, plants colonise, more sediment is trapped … and so a terrace is built up and the diversity of plants increases.

The Solway Firth has famously sediment-laden tides, the sea often the colour of milk-chocolate during strong winds. When the incoming tide reaches the head of the Firth at Rockcliffe and meets the outflowing freshwater of the rivers, it deposits its load of silt. Moreover, during storms, sediment also washes down the rivers “from everybody’s fields”, Bart said, and much of this gets trapped upstream of the ‘neck’ of the Firth at Bowness, so that above-average amounts of riverine sediment are deposited too.

‘The posts were previously this high’

Upward growth, though, is caused by ‘topping tides’, the high Spring tides that happen when the Moon and Sun are in alignment and their gravitational pull is greatest. Then, the water, “brown with muck”, creeps in through the creeks and overspills onto the Marsh. The vegetation creates at its base a layer of still water from which the sediment precipitates out. On a big tide, there’s a relatively long period of slack water at the head of the Firth, which means a longer period for sedimentation to happen; as much as 1cm of silt might then be deposited within a few tidal cycles amongst the grass and herbiage. When Giles had given me a tour of the Marsh he had jumped off the quad near the elbow of the Esk, next to a line of fence posts. “They’re gradually getting buried,” he says, lifting his hand to indicate they were nearly one-third higher when knocked in.

The sediment deposition affects the creeks and pool formation too. In the café, Bart got out the PlayDough, and fashioned a blue creek in a purple Marsh to illustrate what happens. When an incoming tide overtops the banks and spills onto the Marsh, the vegetation traps sediment close to the creek, so that levées gradually form along the banks. As the tide drops, the water on the Marsh cannot escape and forms ephemeral pools, stretches of open water, which slowly decrease by evaporation.

But at one stage in the marsh’s earlier management for sheep, drainage ditches were dug and the levées breached so that the standing water could drain back into the creeks. Now, under NE’s management, the drains have been blocked, the gaps in the banks filled and wet flashes have been dug for waders. The hydrology of the Marsh is being restored to its former state.

(Note: there is much more about other marshes and merses of the Solway, and specifically also about Rockcliffe Marsh in my book The Fresh and the Salt: the Story of the Solway; Birlinn, 2020; see https://thefreshandthesalt.co.uk/chapter-four/ )

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The acronyms’ stories: imagine.

‘Alphabet soup’: AONB, EMS, MPA, MCZ, NNR, SAC, SPA, SSSI – how many more of these acronyms for conservation designations can you recall? Do you know what they mean? (If you don’t – and not many people do – you can find out more on the previous post on this blog.) Do words like biodiverse, conservation, habitat and environment perhaps pass you by?

At the other end of the spectrum from alphabet soup, a war of words broke out between some of the ‘new nature writers’, some accusing others of the over-use of complicated metaphors, mysterious similes and literary allusions that make the reader work too hard to understand what has actually been seen and experienced. George Monbiot wrote that we needed a new language, that ‘language is crucial to how we perceive the natural world’: ‘habitat’ and ‘conservation’ were too dry and alienating. Richard Mabey’s flash of self-awareness in this respect was delightful. Observing and writing about barn owls, he found he was constructing ‘extravagant phrases. …  I was rather pleased with my poetic metaphors, and it was only when I first read this passage out in public that I realised its utter stupidity.’ The moment of understanding came when he realised that the owls were his neighbours. ‘For much of my working life I have been trying to find way of talking about other organisms that neither reduces them to mechanical objects nor turns them into sentimentalised versions of ourselves. Neighbours are fellow creatures, but independent souls. You share their territory (their parish) and often their fortunes, but you can care about them in full knowledge they may not even recognise you.’

This is a fine idea. The small mudshrimp, Corophium, is a near-neighbour of mine; we live in adjacent parishes – he/she within the mudflats that fringe both shores of the Solway Firth, while I live in rolling farmland within sight of the Firth. Corophium is a small pale-brown crustacean, less than a centimetre long and with one pair of very long antennae. Few people have heard of mudshrimps, let alone seen them; they spend many hours each day – hours when the falling tide has uncovered the mudflats – in a burrow or crawling across the thin surface-film of water on the mud. Mudshrimps aren’t ‘charismatic’ or ‘iconic’ like a curlew, watervole, or polar bear, yet their bodies and behaviour are exquisitely adapted to the difficult conditions in which they live. Another of the ways in which our ‘parishes’ differ (there are obviously several) is that Corophium also lives, quite unknowingly, in an alphabet soup. The Upper Solway is an EMS, and has SAC and SPA status; part of the Upper Firth, too, is a MCZ.

Yet these designations, these acronyms, describe living, changing neighbourhoods and parishes. Imagine, then, making a short trip around the north-west Cumbrian coast from Bowness-on-Solway to Anthorn, preferably when the tide is mid-way up and rising; leisurely cycling is a good way of getting about – it’s slow, and you can abandon the bike to explore on foot.

Here at Bowness the Firth, stretching between Scotland and England, shore to shore between Mean High Water Level, is the Ramsar site, and an SAC, SPA, MPA and SSSI. Mudflats and pebbly banks have been exposed. There are tiny holes in the mud, hinting at the burrows of crustacea like Corophium and of snails like Hydrobia; coils of muddy sand on the surface betray the U-tubes of lugworms. They, and several species of burrowing molluscs, use the mud as protection from predators like fish and crabs, but many species of the wading birds busy on the shore are specialist probers intent on finding them. Other snails, and worms like ragworms, lurk beneath small rocks and pebbles, but oyster-catchers and gulls know where to look. As the tide floods in, redshank scurry along the water’s edge; flocks of knot flash binary signals of black and white as they wheel and turn, and curlews pace and probe.

These acronym-ed mudflats are home to hundreds of species of invertebrate animals, millions of animals that are adapted to live and feed and breed in a place where the sea covers and exposes them twice a day, and where brackish conditions can change from one day to another, depending on the state of the rivers and the height of the tide. They are tough and adaptable  animals – within limits – and their numbers and life-styles make the Upper Solway mud a rich feeding-ground for resident and migrant wading birds to re-stock their energy levels.

To the South-West of Bowness, trees and scrub hide the landward end of a stub of red sandstone, all that remains of the former railway viaduct that crossed the Firth. Imagine the Upper Solway during the construction of that viaduct, throughout the five years between 1864-69: barges, pile-drivers, the movement of hundreds of tons of sandstone and iron (and sea-borne sediment), the day-after-day clatter and shouting and banging; the fishing and wild-fowling needed to supplement the meals of all those workers; the disruption and disturbance in the Firth and surrounding countryside. Did they worry about ‘the environment’? ‘Conservation’ and ‘biodiversity’ were not part of the everyday vocabulary. That is now an old story, history, and saltmarshes and mudflats line the shore each side of the embankment’s remains.

But here the story of the Upper Solway Flats conservation area interacts with the story of the Solway Mosses SAC: the railway viaduct, of course, required a railway – which was driven across the raised mire of Bowness Common (Moss) from Whitrigg to the Solway coast. Bowness Common is part of the South Solway Mosses SAC (and is also an SSSI and NNR); part of it is also owned and managed by the RSPB as its Campfield Reserve. The line for the railway was excavated through the peat, which was in places nearly 50 feet (15m) deep. This was (eventually – for a while there were some problems with subsidence) good for the railway, but very harmful for the complex hydrological structure of the mire. Then, peat-bogs were ‘wasteland’. Now, we recognise that peat-bogs and raised mires are very important carbon-stores, and we need to restore and re-wet them so that water-retaining sphagnum mosses can re-establish. Natural England and the RSPB have, over recent years, done considerable work in re-wetting the Moss of Bowness Common, including turning parts of the old railway track into ponds and wetland. You can read more of this extraordinary present-day story, of optimism and engineering, here.

So, bump over the cattle-grid at the entrance to Campfield Reserve, have a cup of coffee in the Solway Wetlands Centre, then walk up the track to the hides that variously overlook grazed pastures, wetlands and lakes. Birds of the hedgerows, of woodland, waterbirds and raptors, and waders from the Solway shore, all take advantage of the variety. Carry on past the wood and out onto Bowness Common, onto a glorious wide-open space dominated by heather, mosses, sundew, butterwort and all manner of other bogplants; here be dragonflies – and butterflies, water-beetles and pondskaters, frogs and newts and lizards …

In the autumn and winter, the stories of this RSPB Reserve – and of the Reserves and protected merses across the Firth at Caerlaverock too – turn a page to a new chapter, that tells of the influx of thousands of overwintering barnacle and pinkfooted geese, and whooper swans. They come here, visitors from far-off Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard, to graze on the Upper Solway wetlands and on the other ‘designated’ areas of the Firth – the salt-marshes.

On the Cumbrian side, saltmarshes stretch South along the coast to Anthorn near Whitrigg, their turf jigsaw-ed by muddy creeks. They too are part of the Ramsar, SSSI and AONB stories, and home to mud-loving and saline-tolerant plants and animals. Small samphire plants appear to be caught in freeze-frame as they stride out across the mud, and pink thrift carpets the close-cropped turf between the feet of grazing sheep and cattle. The story of the saltmarshes is never constant, for the marshes are always shape-changing, sequestering or releasing the sediment carried by the tide; they are the intermediary narrators between the land and sea.

Posted in conservation, Marine Conservation Zone, mud-shrimps, peat, bogs and moors, saltmarshes, wetlands | Tagged , | Comments Off on The acronyms’ stories: imagine.

SACs, SPAs, SSSIs on the Solway Firth: Learning to love the acronyms

Think of [the list] as not so much an inventory as a catalogue leading to compelling and interacting stories.” [1]

Conservation designations: their borders aren’t marked by posts or buoys, but they are marked by lines on maps, and by co-ordinates and words in documents.               

Native and migrant wading birds don’t know about the borders, but they know that this great seascape of changing tides and rich mudflats and saltmarshes is where they want and need to be. Burrowing crustacea, worms and bivalve molluscs, samphire, sea-kale and pink thrift, the millions of microscopic animals and plants and algae that make up the densely-interwoven life of the Solway Firth – their lives depend on the intricacy and uniqueness of their three-dimensional surroundings.

The sea and estuaries and the many types of coastal ‘edge-lands’ that form this large crooked finger of water that reaches deep into the borderlands between Scotland and England, form a ‘soup’ of acronyms. The Firth and its surrounds are protected from human exploitation and ‘re-arrangement’ by layers of statutory – that is, legally-enforceable – conservation designations. You can investigate their virtual boundaries yourself on the interactive maps on MagicMap [2]: I have included screen-shots here (having enquired of MagicMap whether I might do so).

‘Safe areas’ along the Solway 

          

Magic Map: Ramsar sites

The large, main, protected area that comprises the Upper Solway Flats and Marshes unites the two countries around the coasts and across the water. This is a Ramsar site – designated as important wetlands under The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands,  an inter-governmental, ie international, treaty which ‘provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.’

Exactly the same area is designated under EU legislation as a European Marine Site (EMS).  This is quite complicated and I quote from the Solway Firth Partnership’s website: “A Special Protection Area (SPA) is a site designated under the Birds Directive. These sites, together with Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), are called Natura sites and they are internationally important for threatened habitats and species. Natura sites form a unique network of protected areas which stretch across Europe [my italics]. The inner Solway Firth … is designated as an SAC and SPA and is collectively known as the Solway Firth European Marine Site. The [separate] Solway Firth SAC designation reflects the importance of the site’s marine and coastal habitats including merse (saltmarsh), mudflats and reefs. The Upper Solway Flats and Marshes SPA designation recognises the large bird populations that these habitats support, particularly in winter.” [3]

MagicMap: SACs (purple) and SPAs (blue)

It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) under UK statutory protection, overseen by Natural England & Nature Scot, respectively. So this multi-layered protected space is not trivial.

And note that a proposal to extend the SPA is still under consideration (the decision has of course been delayed, due to the Covid19 outbreak and Brexit negotiations – we might finally hear this summer, 2020).

Potential SPA extension [4]

Although not strictly within the Firth, there are other international Ramsar sites along the adjacent coasts: the inner part of Luce Bay, and the Duddon and Morecambe Estuaries (again, on the basis of being internationally important wetland areas). They – and the coast at Drigg near Sellafield – are also Special Areas of Conservation, SACs, under EU statutes.

(The Solway’s  importance for birds – so many species, both residents and migrants, and in such numbers – is also recognised by the UK charities the Wildlife & Wetlands Trust with their big wetland and coastal reserve at Caerlaverock, and by the RSPB’s coastal and wetland reserves at Campfield and St Bees’ Head.)

MCZs (map from Living Seas NW)

Over the past few years, DEFRA has designated parts of the English and Irish seas and coast as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). The Cumbrian Coast MCZ stretches along the shore from St Bees’ Head to Ravenglass, and Allonby Bay MCZ pushes out into the Solway, recognised especially for its important honeycomb-worm (Sabellaria) reefs. The Solway Firth MCZ around Rockcliffe Marsh and the mouth of the R Eden is mainly for the protection of sparling (smelt, or cucumber fish) as they migrate upstream to spawn.

MCZs are designated under the UK’s Marine & Coastal Access Act, which in turn was set up in response to the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Parcels of protection

The sea, estuaries, mudflats and saltmarshes of the Solway Firth have been parcelled, here and there, into places of protection for our ‘natural capital’ – which, in reality, means the vast numbers and species of other residents of our own land- and sea-scape.

But the Solway’s estuaries and coasts are not solely a product of the sea and the mouths of the many rivers that flow into the Firth because they are also influenced strongly, both in geological time and the short-term, by what happens inland.

If we move inshore, a little deeper into the edgelands, we find dunes, then peaty raised mires (the ‘Mosses’) and areas of carr and wetland where water is retained. Many of these places are special, too, for their appearance and ‘feel’, the colours, the smells, and the very different plants and animals and fungi that live there. And luckily for us – and them – many are under statutory protection.

Most of the UK’s remaining raised mires are around the Solway’s upper end, and the three South Solway Mosses – Wedholme Flow, Glasson Moss, Bowness Common – plus Drumburgh Moss, on the English side, are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) protected by European legislation [4]. So too is Kirkconnell Flow near Dumfries.

Then there are the National Nature Reserves (NNR), protected by UK legislation: on the English side, the South Solway Mosses, Drumburgh Moss, Walton Moss and Thornhill Moss; on the Scottish side Caerlaverock  and Kirkconnell Flow.

We have the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the AONB, 50 km of coastline stretching from Maryport along the dunes and saltmarshes to Rockcliffe, managed in statutory compliance [5] with the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 (CroW) and overseen by the three local councils, and Natural England; the AONB incorporates SSSIs too. 

And there are many SSSIs, both sides of the Firth, along the coast and inshore; they too are under UK statutory protection through the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and CRoW, and managed by Natural England and Nature Scot. Amongst them, I’ve already mentioned the Upper Solway Flats & Marches – but there are also, for example, the SSSIs of the South Solway Mosses, Finglandrigg Wood, Silloth Dunes and Mawbray Banks, Maryport Harbour, St Bees’ Head, Drigg Coast … and on the Scottish side, Kirkconnell Flow, Auchencairn and Orchardtown Bays, Abbeyhead Coast, Brighouse Bay, Wigtown Sands and the Whithorn Coast…

I haven’t yet mentioned the many GeoConservation Sites (formerly known as RIGS), such as exposures of the submerged forest near Beckfoot, and Birkham’s red sandstone quarry above St Bees’; although some of these are SSSIs and therefore under statutory protection, many are not. And I’m not going to consider the few Local Nature Reserves such as Siddick Pond.

Birkham’s Quarry, St Bees. A GeoConservation site

‘Too much information?’

I’ve gathered this information here

firstly to understand how, and to what degree, the Solway Firth and its edgelands are protected from human intervention, whether from carelessness or from major construction projects;

and secondly, to try to dispel my own despair over lists of acronyms by considering what these ‘designated areas’ mean in real-life terms.

Let’s turn again to Richard Fortey: “Think of [the list] as not so much an inventory as a catalogue leading to compelling and interacting stories.”  He persuades us to think beyond the check-list of  ‘species found’: to pause, and take time to examine the life-habits of those species.

But his suggestion could equally apply to the list of designated conservation areas along the Solway. SAC? Tick. SPA? Tick. SSSI? Tick, tick, tick … What is the reality of these places on the ground?

Some of these ‘acronyms’ stories’ are elsewhere on this blog.

Sheep on a flooded saltmarsh, Grune Point, Moricambe Bay (AONB, SSSI, SAC, SPA, Ramsar)

Designations, legislations

But what if their story-book gets torn, or if a group of people decide the books are merely clutter and should be thrown out?

If you carry out dredging operations on Ramsar mudflats, place gas-gun bird-scarers on an SAC, drag a trawl across the bottom of an MCZ, or set fire to the heather on a SSSI – who has the power to stop you? Will you get a ‘talking-to’ or be taken to court? And if you are to be prosecuted, under which laws, and in which court and where – a local magistrate’s court, a Crown court… The European Court of Justice will soon have no powers of legislation in the UK. At the time of writing this, we’re waiting on the progress of the new Environment Bill which makes provision for a UK Environmental Court.

The answers to any questions regarding legislation are, as you might expect, very complicated (and might lead you on to further questions such as ‘So, who does own the foreshore of the SAC?’ – and the answer to that depends on which foreshore …).

It also depends whether the damage is done by you, as an individual and therefore ‘third party’ (when you might be answerable to, for example, Natural England [6] and petty crimes might be prosecuted in local courts), or whether the damage occurs because one of the statutory organisations – such as the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), Natural England, Nature Scot – have failed to fully protect or manage a designated site. More serious infringements could well require lawyers expensively well-versed in international environmental law.

After looking into this, and asking questions of my friends and contacts in the relevant organisations, I realised this section could stretch to several pages. So, happily, I can point you to the Marine section of the excellent website , ‘Law & the environment, a plain guide to environmental law’

Also, there is a government website solely concerned with legislation. From the page on Marine Strategy regulations you can, if you wish, click on Section 2, Enactments, and can keep following and clicking (here, for example, is how the MMO has power to bring legal proceedings). And so on, and on, until you forget which question you wanted answered, and need to escape to watch videos of ‘dogs doing silly things’ on YouTube.

Instead, it’s often worthwhile to pause and try to imagine what those acronyms stand for in the real world of the Solway Firth and its edgelands – and feel positive about the future.

Footnotes:

1. Richard Fortey. (2016) The Wood for the Trees: the long view of nature from a small wood. Collins.

2. MagicMap http://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx

3. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s (JNCC) directory of designations for protected areas http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1527

Natural England’s National Character Assessment NCA no 6 The Solway Basin http://nepubprod.appspot.com/publication/5276440824119296 p22 for Landscape & Nature Conservation Designations (on the English side only)

Solway Firth Partnership’s website explains and illustrates some of the Scottish & English designations http://www.solwayfirthpartnership.co.uk/index.php?page=special-places

4. Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s (JNCC) detailed explanations about characteristics and statutory provisions for raised mires in general http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/protectedsites/sacselection/habitat.asp?FeatureIntCode=H7110

and for the South Solway Mosses http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/protectedsites/sacselection/sac.asp?EUcode=UK0030310

5. The legal framework for AONBs http://www.landscapesforlife.org.uk/aonb-legal-framework.html  

6. Enforcement by Natural England of SSSI policy http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/Special/sssi/images/EnforcementPolicyNotice.pdf

Posted in conservation, Marine Conservation Zone, mudflats, peat, bogs and moors, saltmarshes, wetlands | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on SACs, SPAs, SSSIs on the Solway Firth: Learning to love the acronyms