Shingle Beach


When most people think of beaches they think of sand. They do not want to rest upon a thousand bumpy stones. Beaches decorated with pebbles rather than sand are called shingle beaches.

Ballycastle, Antrim, Shingle
Ballycastle, Antrim, Shingle

Shingle beaches are common – Britain has thousands of them, although Japan and New Zealand have more. There is a national registry of shingle beaches in Ireland which has focused on 153 of them.

Brighton beach is famous for its flint nodules, the core remainder of a chalky past.

Brighton Beach

These beaches contain beautiful stones – so much so that people like to collect them. Police warned a woman who took stones, to decorate her garden, from a beach near the Dip, Felixstowe, in the UK. A more high profile situation was that of Dr Caroline Lucas, Green MP for the UK parliament. While taking her parliamentary inauguration oath to the Queen she carried in her hand a pebble from her constituency in Brighton – yes from the famous beach. Taking stones and shells, which form an integral part of the city’s sea defences, from the beach is illegal. A Brighton and Hove council spokesman added:

Visitors to Brighton and Hove will always want to take a memento home with them and for some this is a pebble or sea shell from the beach and on the face of it this seems relatively harmless. However the problem is that the city has a perpetual sea defence problem and pebbles play their part in protecting the seafront.

Rossglass Beach
Rossglass Beach

The National Shingle Beach Survey of Ireland 1999 focused more on the rare vegetation encouraged by the stony terrain, rather than the stones itself.  53 sites in counties Donegal Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry,
Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow, Dublin, Meath and Louth were surveyed. A shingle beach was defined

Rich in stones of approximately 2mm to 250mm in diameter which have been worked by the sea, giving them a rounded or smoothed shape.

Beaches dominated by larger particles (up to 1.5m in diameter – which is quite a large particle!) were considered boulder deposits, but also included in the survey. In New Zealand shingle beaches are defined as the top 10 cm of the surface, > 50% of the volume comprises particles > 2mm in diameter (upper size of sand).  No greater than 50% of the surface can be covered with boulders (rocks > 256 mm).

The following are habitats related to shingle beaches

  • Intertidal shingle – areas of rounded shingle periodically flooded by the tides. Important feeding habitat for many birds.
  • Lagoon – a body of water forming on the landward side of the beach, usually tidal and brackish in nature fed by one or more streams, rivers or rivulets. The lake may exit through a channel in the shingle or may seep through without forming a channel
  • Lowland Karst – areas of exposed limestone pavement.01-limestone-pavement-karst
  • Machair – dry sandy grassland forming behind the beach, typically grazed, potentially shingle based.
  • Rocky shore – outcrops of bedrock frequently washed by the sea or salt spray.
  • Saltmarsh – sand or mud based areas of land frequently inundated by seawater. Dominated by Salicornia, Puccinellia and Spergularia species.
  • Sand Dunes – Ammophila dominated, wind formed, drifts of vegetated sand found behind the beach, may be cobble based.
  • Shingle based grassland – shingle worked by the sea forms the underlying substrate of grassland. Maybe grazed or not, typically dry, dominated by Festuca rubra, Lotus corniculatus, Trifolium repens and others.




Rossglass – Nature and People – Together or Apart?

Rossglass has an extended beach, a mixture of sand and various rocks of different sizes. St John’s Lighthouse is in the distance.

The site is also the first in Northern Ireland to have a bye-law to protect  shore-nesting birds and seal pups from disturbance during their breeding season.

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