This part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is a popular site with both walkers and birdwatchers and is particularly important for wildlife. It is close to the coastal village of Dale and has a small, free carpark. Both the Pickleridge Lagoon and the Gann Estuary (together referred to here as The Gann), as well as the saltmarsh to the north, form part of the Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Milford Haven Waterway Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and therefore have important conservation features that are protected, including several bird species.
Welcome to The Gann!
The Gann is famous in Pembrokeshire birdwatching circles, having recorded a superb list of birds over the years, including many rarities. It is an important place all year round for breeding, passage, and wintering birds. With its combination of extensive mud flats, saltmarsh, and the Pickleridge Lagoon, there is always plenty to see and enjoy.
When visiting The Gann, please respect the wildlife by staying on the footpath (the ridge) as shown on the noticeboard as you start out onto the ridge from the carpark. Please keep your dog on a lead. Wildlife at this site faces a number of challenges, the biggest of all being disturbance, especially at high tide. Birds need to conserve their energy, so regular disturbance does not help them.
The Pickleridge Lagoon, which is owned by the Dale Castle Estate, was created during World War II when sand and gravel was excavated to help with building work for Dale Airfield nearby.
What you see before you now is more or less how it was left after those excavations, although the Pickleridge (which now forms part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path) has been reinforced over the years to protect it from storms and rising sea levels.
This is one of just a handful of coastal lagoons in Wales, so is a very special habitat indeed. It is an important breeding, feeding and roosting site for birds all year around, including Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher. Otters have been seen here on several occasions.
The estuary, below mean high water, is leased from the Crown Estate to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. It is a very important area for wildlife, especially birds, at all times of year. These include Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Brent Goose and at least six species of gulls.
There is a code of conduct information board in the car park related to bait digging, you can view it here.
The saltmarsh, which is to the west of the river above the Coast Path crossing point, is an important habitat, especially to birds at high tide when a good flock of Curlew can usually be seen resting here, usually with several Little Egret. At low water wading birds are out of site in the channel, but a walk along the footpath beside the river (when the crossing point is accessible) is often rewarding, particularly for gulls that drop in to bathe and preen from surrounding fields.
Rare and scarce birds
The list of unusual birds recorded at the Gann is quite staggering, due to a combination of habitat, geographical location, and the number of birdwatchers who pay regular visits here. Interesting birds have been seen across the site, including from the car park, along the Pickleridge, on the lagoon, on the estuary and on the river and saltmarsh upstream of the Coast Path crossing point. The following gives a flavour of some of the species that have been recorded here:
- White-winged Tern
- Royal Tern
- Forster’s Tern
- Caspian Tern
- Laughing Gull
- Bonaparte’s Gull
- Ring-billed Gull
- Caspian Gull
- Semi-palmated Sandpiper
- Lesser Yellowlegs
- American Golden Plover
- Buff-breasted Sandpiper
- Long-billed Dowitcher
- Baird’s Sandpiper
- White-rumped Sandpiper
- Red-necked Phalarope
The Gann Estuary and Dale Roads is underlain by a succession of rocks and sediments that catalogue over 450 million years of earth history. This archive documents significant environment, climate and sea level change, all of which is easily accessible at low tide.
The area has been invaded by volcanic lava flows, and has been blanketed by significant volcanic ash layers on more than one occasion. It has been host to tropical ‘dryland’ rivers that flowed through an alien Silurian landscape devoid of grass, trees and shrubs. Here thrived internationally significant early land plants and fungi, together with a fauna dominated by arthropods.
The area was subject to several phases of marine incursion during Ordovician and Silurian times, and there is strong evidence that an estuary existed here over 400 million years ago. More recent sediments preserve the tell-tale signatures of cold glacial episodes and the intervening warmer interglacials that have done much to influence the shape and form of the present day topography and geography of the area.
For more details of this fascinating heritage, read the excellent overview of the geology of the Gann Estuary by Dr Rob Hiller and Dr David Case.