Coastal Features: The Chesil Beach (Chesil Bank), Pebble Size and Longshore Drift, The Fleet Lagoon, Fleet Peat
The Chesil Beach (Chesil Bank)
Consisting of a 100 million ton bank of pebbles, the Chesil Beach stretches for 28 km to West Bay.
The beach varies between 36 and 200 meters wide and also in height, being 14 meters at Portland and just 5 meters at West Bay. The bank of pebbles separates the sea from Britainís largest tidal lagoon, the Fleet, an important wildlife habitat for all manner of extraordinary flora and fauna. The beach is marching inland at a rate of 5 meters every century, reducing the size of the Fleet Lagoon in the process.
The Chesil Beach is by no means stable. Storm waves have breached its pebble bank several times in the past, flooding the Fleet Lagoon, the land behind it and Portland to a depth of several meters. In one great storm the beach was swept away, exposing the underlying Kimmeridge Clay, in which were coins, jewelry and all sorts of artifacts that had been lost between the pebbles throughout the centuries.
The Fleet Lagoon
The Fleet Lagoon formed during the last Ice Age. It covers an area of 480 hectares and varies in width from 50 meters to over 910 meters. At its deepest it is 4 meters, with many areas much shallower, around 0.5 meter. Some of the lagoon floor is exposed at low tide.
Peat deposits washed onto the Chesil Bank from the old Fleet Lagoon floor on the seaward side of Chesil Beach indicate the lagoon was once much bigger. The lagoon is currently shrinking at the rate of around 5cm every year as the Chesil Beach marches slowly inland.
Pebble Size and Longshore Drift
The stones that make up the Chesil Beach are mainly derived from East Devon, consisting of Metaquartzites of the Ordovian and Devonian Age, Chert and Flint. A unique feature the Chesil Beach is how the pebble size changes from one end to the other. Large cobbles are found at Chesil Cove, Portland, while West Bay has fine grit and gravel. It is thought the bigger heavier stones have a larger surface area and are therefore carried further to the east by the powerful prevailing south westerly waves hitting the beach at an angle, while the smaller lighter stones are carried back to the west by the less powerful waves approaching from the south east.
In effect the stones zigzag their way along the coastline, carried by this longshore drift, accounting for the size graduation.
The harbours at Lyme Regis and West Bay are both obstacles to the longshore drift, and the reduction in quantity of stone being delivered through coastal erosion in East Devon is diminishing. The long-term future
Coastal Visitor Centre
Chesil Beach Centre
Town/Village or Area:
Tourist Info Centres
in this Area: Eelgrass Habitat
The wide, shallow parts of the Fleet Lagoon consist of muddy silts and sediments which have settled onto the lagoon floor. This provides a lot of nutrients, ideal for eelgrass beds to thrive. Eelgrass is a type of flowering plant that lives in the sea and can tolerate brackish conditions. The swans of Abbotsbury thrive on the eelgrass, consuming around 2 kg each per day.
Interest: The Chesil Beach and Smugglers, Bouncing Bombs
The Chesil Beach and Smugglers
Folklore says that a local fisherman or smuggler could tell exactly where he was on the beach at night or in fog simply by looking at the size of the pebbles. This aided him in sneaking ashore, away from the customs men and their patrols.
The shallow water and remoteness of the 8 mile (13 km) long Fleet lagoon proved the ideal place to test the prototypes of Barnes Wallisís bouncing bombs during WW2. Here they could easily be recovered for inspection.