Bristol Channel

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Location of Bristol channel
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Location of Bristol channel
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The Severn Bridge and Bristol channel, looking from England towards Wales
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The Bristol Channel coast at Ilfracombe, North Devon, looking west towards Lee Bay

The Bristol Channel is a major inlet in the island of Great Britain, the area of the Atlantic Ocean and River Severn estuary which separates South Wales from South West England. It is named after the city of Bristol, England.

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Ecology

At low tide large parts of the channel may become mud flats, as the estuary has a tidal range of 15 metres, the second largest in the world. The estuary is an important area for wildlife, in particular waders, and has protected areas, including National Nature Reserves. Various development schemes have been proposed along the channel, including an airport and a tidal barrier for electricity generation, but the conservation issues have always blocked such schemes.

Major islands in the Bristol Channel are Lundy, Steep Holm and Flat Holm. The islands and headlands provide some shelter for the upper reaches of the channel from storms. These islands are mostly uninhabited and protected as nature reserves, and are home to some unique wild flower species.

Coastal towns

There are many towns along the coast of the Bristol Channel, particularly in the industrial areas of South Wales. The sheltered upper reaches of the channel protect a number of ports.

On the English coast is the city of Bristol, and associated ports at Avonmouth and Portishead, and the towns of Clevedon, Weston-Super-Mare and Minehead in Somerset, and Ilfracombe and Barnstaple in Devon.

On the Welsh coast are the port cities of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport and the town of Chepstow.

Crossings

At two of the narrower parts, near Bristol and Chepstow, the channel is crossed by the Severn Bridge and the Second Severn Crossing carrying, respectively, the M48 and M4 motorways. Previous to the contruction of the first bridge in 1966, the channel was crossed by the Aust ferry. The Severn Tunnel carries a railway line under the channel, situated near the second road bridge.

1607 flood

On 30 January 1607 (New style) thousands of people were drowned, houses and villages swept away, farmland inundated and flocks destroyed when a flood hit the shores of the channel. The devastation was particularly bad on the Welsh side from Laugharne in Carmarthenshire to above Chepstow on the English border. Cardiff was the most badly affected town. There remain plaques up to 8ft above sea level to show how high the waters rose on the sides of the surviving churches. It was commemorated in a contemporary pamphlet "God's warning to the people of England by the great overflowing of the waters or floods."

The cause of the flood remains disputed. Before the 2004 tsunami disaster the BBC made a programme covering research by Professor Simon Haslett, from Bath Spa University College, and Australian geologist Ted Bryant, from the University of Wollongong. They found evidence including massive boulders that had been displaced up the beach by enormous force, and a layer up to 20cm thick comprised of sand, shells and stones within an otherwise constant deposit of mud.

Written evidence from the time describes events that were uncannily similar to the tragedies that unfolded in South East Asia, including a wave of water that rushed in faster than men could run, and a crowd of people who stood and watched the wave coming towards them until it was too late to run.

The idea that the 1607 flood was due to a tsunami was first put forward by Haslett and Bryant in a scientific paper published in 2002 in the journal Archaeology in the Severn Estuary.

The BBC programme was not broadcast until 2nd April 2005 ("BBC News" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/4397679.stm)), but was covered in The Times (article (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-17089-1424953,00.html)) on 4th January 2004, leading some to wrongly suggest that the notion of a tsunami in 1607 was simply speculation following the 2004 tsunami disaster.

Prior to this it had long been believed that the floods were caused by a combination of meteorological extremes and tidal peaks. There was indeed an unusually high tide at the time. (discussion (http://www.severnsolutions.co.uk/twblog/archive/2005/01/06/greatflood1606)).

See also

de:Bristolkanal kw:Mor Havren no:Bristolkanalen

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