One typically overcast August day back in 2008, I was walking along the usually deserted Whiteford Sands when vehicles of all descriptions sped across the beach and into the distance. Tractors, trailers and four-wheel drive cars, laden with men and equipment, rushed across the sand to get to the boulder outcrops that surround the old iron lighthouse at Whiteford Point. Being curious, I made a bee-line in the same direction.

As I got closer, I could see that everyone was congregating at the fast-receding water’s edge where an extreme low tide was revealing extensive beds of young mussels growing wild. By the time I arrived on the scene it was one of absolute frenzied activity, with people using short-handled rakes to scrape the young mussels from their attachments into framed net bags as quickly as possible. This involved back-breaking work standing in the shallow water pools left by the ebbing tide, frantically trying to retrieve as much of the black harvest as possible before the tide turned. The contents of each full net were then transferred to large polypropylene builders bags on the rocks.

The mussels that they were harvesting were not large enough to be eaten. They were being gathered to supply the insatiable demand for shellfish in the UK and European markets. I was told by one of the mussel fishermen that the small mussels would be sold to localities, such as Poole Harbour in Dorset, where they would be grown on in more nutrient-rich waters than the Loughor Estuary – and fattened-up for sale to shops and restaurants.


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10 Replies to “Mussel Gatherers at Whiteford”

  1. Now I am more mystified than ever. Ingenuity? Sneekiness? Do you mean the relaying of shellfish? Lots of bivalves are treated this way because the places where they most successfully breed are not necessarily the best places for them to develop. Look at oysters, for example, they have been collected from wild beds and shipped miles around for fattening-up over thousands of years. ……or do you allude to something else?


  2. You mean you have never read my PhD Thesis?
    I guess people found it out by observation, necessity, and trial and error. It’s a well documented phenomenon from ancient China and Ancient Rome but probably wasn’t done in Britain until the Middle ages (with oysters, that is. Not sure when commercial mussel cultivation started in UK)


  3. My bad! No, I have not read your PhD thesis, because, I suspect, I would not understand any of the carefully constructed sentences. I would understand some of the vocabulary, but it would need a more thorough grounding in Latin. It is a shame that so much of the world’s knowledge is lost to those outside academe. And that is why I read your blog, because it redresses the balance, in a way.

    So, I am fascinated by this observation. How many more ‘economic’ activities are founded on ancient observations and creative thinking? These people were the Steve Jobs’s on which we all rely.


  4. Sorry, that was me showing off in an unguarded moment – very few people read academic theses. That is one reason that I write the blog – just to tell people about things that fascinate me, in a way that I hope is accessible to most readers.


  5. Hi. I had a look at your website and can see the similarity of the lighthouse you feature to the one at Whiteford Point,. The main difference is that the Whiteford light house is made entirely of iron. Unfortunately, it is no longer in operation. I believe it can be purchased by anyone willing to undertake conservation work on it, for the token price of £1 – but that may just be a local story.
    Despite the number of empty bottles that turn up on beaches near to the lighthouse, there is little or no sea glass to be found. You must have found some good sources of beach glass in order to make the exquisite jewelry that you sell!


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