I arrived on Chesil Beach between storms. It had stopped raining but a relentless gale was blowing from the southwest and it was hard to stand upright on top of the steep bank, pebbles shifting and sliding beneath my feet. A fine mist of sea spray blurred my vision. I tasted salt on my lips and my thoughts were drowned by the white noise of waves over shingle.
Chesil Beach stretches 18 miles from Portland to Lyme Regis along part of the Jurassic Coast. The longshore drift processes the pebbles, distributing them in graded sizes from largest in the east to the fine shingle of West Bay at the far end of the Bank. It is said that fishermen landing on Chesil at night can tell where they are by the size of the pebbles.
The prevailing currents cause large quantities of marine litter to be deposited near Portland. The high tide mark zigzags off across the pebbles – a lurid washing line of netting, plastic bottles, fishing wire, rags, shoes, rubber tyres … It is a lethal mix of litter and, bound up with it, are the bodies of birds, fish, even the occasional dolphin and, recently, a cow. After the stormy weather at the beginning of February it resembled a landfill site.
I talked to Emily Brown, Discover Chesil Project Officer, who told me that, after the first storms, 90 people voluntarily spent a day clearing the beach near the Chesil Centre at Portland and completely filled a skip with the rubbish.
Carrier bags are sometimes mistaken for jellyfish by turtles and ingested with fatal consequences. Nurdles (the raw material of plastic) along with plastic bottles, fishing wire and hooks, chemicals discharged from shipping and syringes all present obvious dangers to wildlife.
Today, however, among the rubbish, I can see clusters of dog whelk egg cases like balls of bubble wrap scudding across the shingle, the occasional delicate skeleton of coral balanced on the flotsam and jetsam and chalky white cuttlefish that have surfed up on to the pebbles. A couple of weeks ago goose barnacles were washed up on the Chesil attached to a large piece of red plastic. Such finds on the strandline can give us exciting clues to underwater life and how this changes with the seasons.