One of the distinctive qualities of Gower is its rich variety of habitats, including heathland, saltmarsh and woodland. These habitats are vital for the survival of the abundant plant and animal species that make Gower their home, many of which are rare or protected. It is the interactions between these species, their habitats and natural processes that form the Gower ecosystem.
There is a rich diversity of ecosystems along the Gower coast. However, many of the ecosystems that make Gower special are in decline in terms of their size/extent and condition (both locally and across the UK) because of issues such as pollution, development and pressures caused by recreation.
Many habitats, plant and animal species are now protected for their conservation value. In Gower there are numerous such sites, including three National Nature Reserves, two Local Nature Reserves, Wildlife Trust Reserves, Sites of Interest for Nature Conservation and many Sites of Special Scientific Interest. There are also internationally designated Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation.
It is important to remember that people are a part of ecosystems. We interact with them on a daily basis and can impact on their natural processes, both negatively and positively. Humans rely on ecosystems to provide the many benefits that we rely on for health and well-being. These include providing food, fuel, shelter and water; protecting us from flooding; offering recreation or learning opportunities, and much more. It is vital that we take care to ensure our interactions with ecosystems are positive, so that we can continue to benefit from them for generations to come.
The coastal habitats with the largest extent in Gower are:
- Sand dunes
- Honeycomb work reef
- Seagrass beds
- Maritime cliff and slope
The habitats away from the coast with the largest extent in Gower are:
- Lowland heath
- Cereal field margins
- Lowland meadows
Benefits to people
We all appreciate the different ecosystems of Gower for different reasons. Many people enjoy being close to nature and learning about the special habitats and species found here. Lots of tourists indeed visit the area because of their love of nature.
Gower is famous for its stunning coastline and beaches, which attract large numbers of visitors each year. There are many different opportunities for recreation, including surfing and other watersports, walking, sunbathing, bird watching and other popular activities. In fact, many of the local beaches are award-winning, including Rhossili Bay, the first beach to be awarded “Britain’s best beach” by TripAdvisor for two years running.
There are many opportunities for recreation inland – notably the network of footpaths throughout the countryside, enabling people to experience views of the stunning landscape and explore sheltered woodland, rolling grassland, meadows and heathland commons. A walk along Cefn Bryn, a 5 mile sandstone ridge banked by grassland known as Cefn Bryn Common, offers panoramic views across Gower.
Gower habitats are important for providing food products. Livestock grazing occurs on some of the coastal habitats, such as saltmarshes, cliff-tops and sand dunes where there is established grassland. Grazing on saltmarsh produces distinctly-flavoured products, such as Gower’s famous saltmarsh lamb and beef. This is due to the particular flavour imparted from the coastal vegetation including samphire and thyme. Wild foods can also be sourced in places, such as berries from hedgerows and mushrooms from some woodlands and grasslands. Gower is also well known for its farm produce including vegetables and soft fruits, which are sold at local farmers’ markets.
Climate change is a major concern both locally and globally. Gower’s ecosystems can help to prevent increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Increases in greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, are widely accepted as being responsible for our changing climate. Plants and trees in Gower take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, whilst some wetland habitats can help sequester (lock away) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Gower’s ecosystems can help us to adapt to a changing climate. Trees, including the ancient woodlands and mature hedgerows provide shade from hotter temperatures – not just for people but for livestock and wildlife too. Flood protection is provided by habitats such as reedbed, woodland and fen. These habitats can store water during times of heavy rainfall and help to slow down rain run-off, preventing water flowing into rivers or lakes too quickly. Such habitats are also able to improve water quality, by filtering pollution from the water before it reaches lakes, rivers or the sea.
The habitats along the coast, such as sand dunes and saltmarsh, provide some protection against the effects of the sea, including storm surge, wave damage and coastal flooding. Saltmarsh is particularly good at reducing the energy of waves, minimising their impact on the coast. Sand dunes provide barrier protection from the sea, preventing the areas behind them from flooding.