Saltmarsh Sheep at Whiteford (1) - Sheep on flooded ground at Landimore Marsh, Whiteford, Gower, South Wales.

Landimore Marsh, The Groose, and Cwm Ivy Marsh lie to the east of Whiteford National Nature Reserve in Gower, South Wales. If you are able to look down on this area from Llanmadoc Hill, you can see an amazing dendritic pattern of channels draining the land into Burry Pill, which in turn feeds in to the River Loughor and estuary.

When the tide is way out, spectacular vast expanses of sand and mud flat are exposed. The river narrows to such an extent in places that local fishermen are able to cross over the mud flats to and fro Llanrhidian.

When the tide comes in, the channels of the salt-marsh begin to flood. At very high tides, the channels overflow and the entire marsh is covered with sea water right up to the man-made causeway that separates The Groose from Cwm Ivy Marsh.

The saltmarshes are grazed by herds of wild Gower ponies and flocks of sheep. The sheep which feed here on the luxuriant and abundant herbiage are reknowned for the distinctive flavour of their meat. However, the incoming seawater can prove a problem for the flocks. While the ponies can simply keep moving ahead of the flowing tide if they wish, sheep are less certain of their response and tend to just stand still with the water running around them.

When I visited in late June on a warm misty morning, there had been one of these high tides. It was in the process of ebbing. Great flocks of sea birds, small clusters of ponies, and scattered groups and individual sheep were standing still on recently exposed hummocks of land or actually in the water. 

The top picture shows sheep on the flooded salt-marsh with their reflections in the calm glassy water. The picture below has three dry-footed sheep peering out from the flag leaves and meadowsweet flowers at the edge of the marsh while in the background the rest of the flock are scattered across wetter ground. And in the final picture below, four sheep definitely have got wet feet – it looks as though they have been patiently standing still as the tide flowed in and ebbed out around their legs.

Saltmarsh Sheep at Whiteford (2) - Sheep on the saltmarsh by Whiteford National Nature Reserve, Gower, South Wales, June 2009.

Saltmarsh Sheep at Whiteford (3) - Stranded saltmarsh sheep waiting for the tide to recede at Landimore Marsh to the east of Whiteford Burrows National Nature Reserve, Gower, South Wales, June 2009.

Saltmarsh Sheep at Whiteford (4) - Sheep resting safe and dry beneath pines of Bergins Island adjacent to Landimore Marsh and Whiteford Burrows, Gower, South Wales. June 2009.


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12 Replies to “Saltmarsh sheep at Whiteford”

  1. Round here at this time of year we get coloured sheep; blue, red, pink green and purple sheep in the fields around Southwold. Latitude festival has the sheep dyed and I still don’t know why. They get spotlit at part of the festival!


  2. This all sounds really intriguing. Are the sheep dyed from top to toe as it were, or just in patches? What is the Latitude Festival? I have never heard of it. Would love to know more.


  3. Top to toe; Latitude is a rock and everything else festival that’s gaining momentum in the east of England. We get V too but that’s further inland. People like Johnny Depp are known to attend; he has a house nearby in Wrentham.
    Google Latitude for more info!


  4. Thanks Viv. I was just doing that – Googling. Incredible colours on the sheep. I think the word psychodelic was used! So, just decorative here. In other places the colours are used to identify and code the flocks. Also, in some areas, the ram has a canvas bag of dye sewn into his fleece on the belly side so that the stain rubs off on the back of the ewes that he has serviced. This tells the farmer how many sheep are likely to be in lamb later on.


  5. Hi, Chris.
    Great. I look forward to seeing your take on the sheep. I’ll make a link to your post when it is published if you would like me to.
    Those pictures of yours of the Red Arrows were amazing. Just how did they make that heart shape trail? I can’t work out how they manage to do these things without crashing into each other.


  6. We get the Red Arrows here next week for the Lowestoft Air Festival; something I avoid like the plague and try and snooze through; far too many people descend on a small town centre and too much noise for me!
    I remember in Return of the native by Thomas Hardy, the Reddle man who sold the dye for the sheep was an outcast on account of his dyeing everything he came into contact with!


  7. Even though I live slap bang in the middle of Hardy country (I often walk near the cottage he was brought up in), I know very little about his novels. So thank you for the reference to the reddle man – I hadn’t heard of people with that trade before.


  8. I love Hardy!
    I did that novel for A level and we used to refer to the character Diggory Venn the reddle man as the Meddle man cos he meddled!
    One curious thing about Hardy was he considered himself a poet first; he wrote novels to pay the bills so he could write poetry. I’ve earned more from poetry than I ever have from prosefiction so far, so we’re almost the other way round as I consider myself a novellist first and a poet second!


  9. You are a very talented person to be able to write both poetry and prose in such an excellent manner. I am afraid that my own background leaned very much to the sciences rather than literature – although that did teach me to write clearly. There is, of course a lot of interest in Hardy’s life and works here in Dorchester. His study has been recreated/preserved in our local Dorset County Museum. It has become a sort of shrine to followers of his work from all over the world.


  10. Thank you!
    I must visit it one day.
    I have to confess that the most actual money I ever earned from writing was in a short piece for The Last Word in New Scientist; earned me £25 and a computer gizmo! In real terms it’s never earned me any hard cash; a few prizes, a magazine subscription, a few free issues and the odd voucher.
    But I live in hope.
    Being able to write clearly, whether scientifically or otherwise, is a rare skill that’s getting rarer, so cherish it.


  11. It’s great to be able to do the things you enjoy doing (or feel compelled to do), like writing and photography, and to receive acknowledgements from the wider community – but it seems as if a magic ingredient is needed to convert the work into something more tangible that will help pay the bills!


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