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Gin-clear water

A special feature of Salcombe Harbour is the opportunity for bathing. Neighbouring harbours do not have anything to compare with the golden sands which stretch from East Portlemouth to the bar on the east, and NEaster 2009: pontoons and dredging

Although things sometimes seem to move slowly, there have been a number of improvements around the harbour over the last year or so, most noticeably the residents’ pontoons with their white-capped piles and the new visitor pontoon in Kingsbridge, which makes an easy place to stop for shopping or a meal.

More is planned: work to replace Batson creek pontoons should start in the autumn, but probably without white-capped piles which may look less conspicuous at least until the gulls have done their bit. A couple of the old pontoons will probably be set up in Frogmore to provide easier access there. With a bit of luck – but it’s not definite yet – we might also get an additional pontoon in South Pool to cope with the numbers on high-tide weekend evenings.

On other issues, the 6-knot speed limit – as the result of the Harbour Board meeting in South Pool – is now in place between the Marine Hotel (if we can still call it that) and the Saltstone and, perhaps most exciting of all, we look to have found an affordable way to dredge and have done so in Batson Creek.

Dredging is expensive, not least because of the cost of shipping-away the spoil. But this time we have dredged by using water jets to create a fluid mud layer about a metre deep which slips out with the tide. It seems to take only about 40 minutes for the mud to pass the Bar and the fishing boats report that they see it next off Bolt Head. Best of all, the harbour is left clean.

orth and South Sands on the west side.

This is why it is so important for the harbour to have what the Navy would call gin-clear water and why I would like to see Blue Flags fluttering all over the harbour beaches. But the harbour has none. Why?

The harbour seems to have three main sources of pollution: sewage works, vessels and farms. Sewage outflows enter the harbour in three places: near Gerston, which must be principally responsible for the bloom which appears from time to time in its discharge area; near Charleton, although this outflow must be well-filtered through reed beds; and above South Sands.

Effluent from vessels will be steadily reducing as many larger yachts now have holding tanks so will not need to discharge whilst in the harbour or need do so only on a fast-falling tide. The biggest vessel of all is, of course, the Egremont with 50-60 people on board. This had a sewage treatment plant installed some years ago but unfortunately it has never been commissioned. That will have to change soon to comply with new legislation.

Run-off from farms is a bigger problem than one might think because animal faeces are (surprisingly) generally more harmful in water than human faeces. The fate of the Blue Flag at South Sands illustrates this clearly.

A couple of years ago, South Sands won a Blue Flag which was lost almost immediately most probably not as the result of storm overflows from the sewage works but as the result of cows polluting its stream. It had been a wet summer and there was simply too much run-off. Since then work has been going on to try to keep the cows away from the stream and the water quality has improved to “good”. But is not yet back to the “excellent” South Sands needs for the coveted Blue Flag.

If anyone knows how to clean a stream running through a dairy field, I would be pleased to hear from them. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a tip. If your family play in the freshwater streams at Millbay, North or South Sands, remember to wash their hands in the gin-clear seawater before eating, particularly after heavy rain.

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