by Jim Hall (Swansea)

The late Chris Batt and I decided one day in September 1994 to visit his favourite collecting beach, Gelliswick Bay in Milford Haven.

This bay is normally deserted and not a very attractive place to say the least (this was before the oil spill), but like all such habitats, their very appearance helps to keep the worst predator (Man) away and allows nature to blossom in comparative freedom. The beach is about 500 metres long with a very large area of boulders and rocks to the right of the beach leading under huge overhead pipelines running from the oil tankers in the Milford Haven to the terminals on the shore. This is an estuary location and across the waters of the Haven lie the dockyards and more oil terminals at Pembroke.

Low Spring Tides

Chris had always told me that collecting at Gelliswick Bay was only worthwhile on the biggest tides. At these times it could prove to be an  Aladdin's Cave of wildlife treasures. So with this in mind we sallied forth knowing that there were 'goodies' in them there rocks.

  Sea Stickleback

 At the lowest point of the spring tide lay a bed of kelp and amongst the waving fronds we began to catch Sea Sticklebacks, Spinachia spinachia. These are long brown pencil-shaped fish with about 20 small dorsal spines. I came across a Mermaid's Purse, with a young dogfish still alive inside, tangled around the base of a kelp. I was able to grab in my hand the armoured body of a Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, 23 cm long.

 Chris had strayed some distance away but shouted back to me that he had discovered an adult Greater Pipefish, Syngnathus acus, at 40 cm in length. He was delighted because females seem to be rarely caught inshore. This may be because it is the male that incubates the eggs and releases the young into shallow water.

Aquarium Study of the Greater Pipefish

Montagu's Sea Snail

My next surprise was to find a Sea Snail, Liparis sp., in my net; again not a common find although this small orange fish is not particularly scarce. It is just that they seem to hide in holes a great deal and are therefore difficult to spot.

   Montagu's Sea Snail

Turning Stones

Chris joined me with a bucket of goodies and a look of utter pleasure on his face.
"Let's try turning a few stones", he suggested. Knowing that my back would be hell tomorrow, I bent down and turned a large slab to find a rather doleful looking Butterfish, Pholis gunnellus. I worked this area carefully and discovered two more as well as a 3 cm long Tompot Blenny, Parablennius gattorugine.

 Chris discovered a very small 15 mm Cornish Sucker Fish, Lepadogaster lepadogaster, and numerous Squat Lobsters, Galathea sp., and also some very small baby flatfish, probably young Plaice. He was searching for Lesser Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa, for his 'Silent World' Aquarium at Tenby as he large tanks prepared for them, but he was unable to discover any.
 We were both very pleased with the catch so far and we made our way very cautiously back across the slippery rocks to the beach area.

Military Manoeuvres

We noticed several cars parked on the road by the bay and several people standing looking across the water. We would normally be alone on this beach so we did pass comment on our apparent spectators but decided to ignore them and spend half an hour using our push-nets off the beach. We started catching young and adult Nilsson's Pipefish, Syngnathus rostellatus, identified by Chris as I had not seen these alive before. Needless to say as I was netting a fish every few minutes I was totally absorbed in what I was doing.

Let's get the hell out of here!

It was about this time the helicopter began hovering above us making the water around us boil in the downdraft. I said a few choice words, but Chris wryly expressed the opinion that the pilot was trying to tell us something. Fishing was good so we ignored him and he flew away. We continued to net pipefish. I had about a dozen at that point and Chris had nearly as many, when back came the helicopter again obviously 'buzzing' us deliberately. We also noticed that the cars on the road had also built up whilst we had been absorbed in our fishing and now there were several army lorries amongst them. In the distance, perhaps two miles out we could make out four Army Beach Assault Craft steadily crossing the Haven from the Pembrokeshire side of the estuary.

 We now knew why we were being 'buzzed'. I felt that we were there first and refused to move. Chris agreed and we continued fishing whilst four landing craft discharged their human cargo into the surf on all sides of us. We watched at close quarters about 100 soaking wet men make their way ashore. Then it was my turn to tell Chris to look behind him. Across the water, we could see at least another 20 landing craft heading for 'our' beach followed by Motor Torpedo Boats, and the air was now alive with helicopters.

 Chris's words were simple: "Let's get the hell out of here!". I rapidly agreed and we legged it for dry land as fast we could. As we were driving away we noticed a professional camera man filming the whole event.

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