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Moving Gannel

There's been a lot of discussion in and around Crantock, as well as online, regarding the movement of the Gannel rivermouth as it snakes across the beach. All of the discussion essentially boils down to one of two viewpoints; some people are keen for the beach to be dredged so that the river can be moved back to the north side of the beach as it was up until a few years ago, others are happy to leave the river exactly as it is and to adapt to the way the river naturally flows.

Before we get onto the pros and cons of each option lets back-track a bit and explain the history of how we got to where we are. The river you see winding across the beach is the final part of the Gannel Estuary, a tidal estuary (where we run our SUP Tours) which is a constant river/stream at low-tide, but carries a huge weight of water after high tide as the estuary drains out. It's this huge volume of water that affects the course of the river as it heads across the beach before rejoining the sea. Imagine turning a hose on without holding onto it, when the flow-rate is low the hose will stay pretty much where it is, but crank it up a bit and it starts unpredictably flailing around all over the place - that's pretty much what happens down here on Crantock.

The ever-moving river shifts sandbanks around on the beach, affecting where the good surfing waves are and also where the dangerous rip-currents and holes are on the beach. It's also a major reason why we have instances of sinking sand in the old river beds from time to time.

When the Gannel Estuary was used as a major shipping channel for Cornwall (more on that in another blog post), the decision was made to dredge the north-side of the beach so that the river flowed along East Pentire Headland. A breakwater was also installed under the sand to 'pin' the river against the headland, it's actually the top of that wall that you can see now where the river starts to flow across the beach. From time to time this was re-cleared to ensure the river stayed at that end of the beach. In the photo below you can see the guys from The Fern Pit clearing the sand and repairing the breakwater the last time it was done back in 1986.

The reason the river now flows across the beach is, in a large part, due to the huge, destructive storms that hit Cornwall back in 2014 - the huge waves, relentless power and huge volume of rainwater that those storms dumped on the Cornish coastline eventually caused the river to burst it's banks and begin to flow across the beach. At the time there were a lot of other coastline projects that needed attention and as such we've ended up in the situation we are now.


The key reasons why some people believe the river needs to be re-dredged are as follows:

• Being able to predict where the strong currents on the beach will be

• To control beach erosion by ensuring the river runs along the rocks

• To prevent the beach being 'red-flagged' by the lifeguards over high-tides and thus ensure the beach is safe for bathing throughout the tidal range


The key reasons voiced for letting the river take it's natural course are as follows:

• All studies suggest that any re-dredging would only have very temporary effects on the course of the river, most agree that it would likely break it's banks again after more big storms

• The costs involved in the work would be very high and without guaranteed results the money could be far more effective elsewhere

• Many people have mentioned that by straightening the estuary it could make bathing in the river even more dangerous, as anyone carried out in the current would head straight for the island rather than being swept across the beach, this would make any rescues even more difficult.


There are certainly good points on both sides of the argument, however we're certainly in the "leave it alone" camp. The reasons we've outlined above are all key factors in that decision, especially with the amount that the dunes have been eroded in recent years, there's so much sand moving around in the nearshore area that it would only take another big storm and we'd be straight back to the way things are with a load of money gone to waste. The cost involved just makes that prohibitive in our view.

In terms of safety on the beach from the surf-school's perspective, we see the challenges of the moving river as an asset rather than a problem. First and foremost we have an incredible safety record and ensure that all staff not only conform to regulations as qualified Beach Lifeguards but also undergo additional training alongside our in-house training which is specifically related to the conditions at Crantock.

Since BGSS began back in 2011 we've always taught our students a lot about ocean-awareness, beach safety and generally being able to keep yourself and your friends/family safe. Alongside our in-water tuition we also run "theory sessions" dealing with a lot of beach knowledge and safety protocols.

Having the river flowing across the beach at Crantock means that we're regularly moving our lessons around in the water, giving you guys the perfect opportunity to see the effect that rip-currents and changing sand-banks have. Really importantly it gives us the chance to show all of our students how to both identify and deal with these potential dangers and how to stay safe. Without rips and other currents being so prevalent it would be very easy for our students to be lulled into a false sense of security and potentially put themselves in danger when surfing alone after a lesson!

From a surfing point of view, all of us think that the moving rivermouth has made the low and mid-tide sandbanks better than ever! Bonus!

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, get in touch to let us know what you think!

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